God Chooses Us FOR Something

Do y’all remember what we talked about last week?  God calling the disciples and they left their nets because we can’t carry our baggage with us on this crazy, awesome journey of being a disciple of Jesus.  God chooses us just as we are.  Remember the story at the end about Ben Hooper, we’re all children of God and we should go claim our inheritance.  Let’s continue with our Chosen Series.

Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Let us start with a definition of “talent.” tal•ent

  1. natural aptitude or skill. “he possesses more talent than any other player”
    synonyms: flair, aptitude, facility, gift, knack, technique, touch, bent, ability,expertise, capacity, faculty;
    2. a former weight and unit of currency, used especially by the ancient Romans and Greeks.

A talent is a large sum of money, equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years. As a result of the wide circulation of this story, “talent” came into the English language in the Middle Ages as a term for God-given abilities, “gifts and graces.”  Isn’t it fascinating that just from this biblical passage that we get the first definition from the second one.

Queen Elizabeth II says this about talent.  “I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”  So she says it’s all about working together.  Bringing all of our talents to the table.  Larry Bird, basketball player says this about talent, “A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.”  Larry Bird knows what it is to work hard.  He says you can’t merely rely on talent alone, but you have to work hard to develop that talent.  Soledad O’Brian, broadcaster, says this, “I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?”  A common theme throughout our “Chosen Series” is that fear limits us from doing what we can with the talents God has given us.

2 Timothy 1:6-14 says, “14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”  Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.  God gives us this treasure that God’s entrusted to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Do you hear that?  We’ve been given this jewel and if we hide it, just like in the parable of the talents, we will not be rewarded.  God wants us to share it with others.  God doesn’t choose us simply for the sake of choosing; being chosen doesn’t mean that you’re better than others.  When God chooses us, we’re chosen FOR something.

I read an article from Relevant a few years ago called “So You Have No Idea What Your ‘Calling’ Is.”  “Words like “calling” and “vocation” sound great until you realize you don’t know yours.  We have to consider our talents and passions and seek out wisdom. And when we do start to figure it out, we may have to come to terms with the fact that our place in the process might look a little bit more like making someone’s day by brewing an incredible cup of coffee rather than revolutionizing the whole industry through fair-trade initiatives.”  Have you ever felt like that?  Are you, or your children or grandchildren stuck in that uncertain, stuck place discerning their gifts or callings?  At each stage of life, we go through the same thoughts and questions, whether we’re 8 or 98.

You see the God that knit you together in your mother’s womb is calling you forth to share YOUR particular gift, your unique talents with the world.  Whether big or small, no act of love, no sharing of your gifts, is insignificant.  We’re called to be faithful and obedient.  We’re not called to be famous, to have a million followers on Twitter or have a clothing line.  Good for the people that do.  Most of us will not.  Don’t compare yourself to others because that only sets you up for dissatisfaction, envy, failure, and not to mention, it’s unhealthy.  We are each given our part to play.

1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-11 (NRSV) says, 1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”

Everyone has been given gifts spiritual and otherwise.  Ask God to help you see and know your specific gifts, those that you bring to a world full of darkness.  There’s a great explanation and test on The United Methodist Church’s website – http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/spiritual-gifts.  Take a spiritual gifts survey, ask a trusted mentor or friend what they’ve seen in your life, use your own God-given discernment and let the Holy Spirit tell you what makes you – YOU.

This next clip admittedly is from a kid’s movie, The Rise of the Guardians. Jack Frost has just been invited to join The Guardians, those who protect children, and he’s being questioned by Santa Claus.  The movie asks the question, “What is your center?” What are the things that make you – YOU? What makes me Narcie?

So Santa’s outside can be intimidating, but his center is full of wonder.

This next scene is at the end of the movie where Jack Frost defeats the villain Pitch ie. the Boogeyman.

Jack’s center is fun.  I would also say mischief making, when he gives kids snow days.  He defeats the villain with joy!  What makes you – YOU? What is your center? Why did God place you on this earth in this particular time, in this particular place? Not in a braggy, self-centered kind of way. Too much self-love is a detriment and can lead you on the path of destruction. Ie. The dark side.  Not to mention getting your head through the door.

But if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, if it feels like you’re not worthy or good enough.  If you’re feeling like the kid from Polar Express, that God forgot you when God gave out the gifts, you’re not alone.  All of us struggle with doubt and fear and dark nights of the soul.

Sudha Khristmukti’s “More Than Enough” is a poem that speaks to this.

“Something is better than nothing,” I say to myself.

Still another voice persists:

“Will my gift, which appears so meager, count amidst this sea of other offerings?” I ache with doubt. And yet I saw how my leaking faucet filled a bucket last night. One drop at a time. More isn’t always the most, and less isn’t always the least. Approachability. Availability. Dependability. Listening ears, understanding heart. Words of encouragement, being present   when it matters most. Selflessness and the gift of self. If the smallest act to even one life becomes significant enough, it might just make a world of difference. The endless possibilities lie with the One who can use the whole of what we think is merely a mite, a part. Here and now, if we simply present whatever we are, whatever we can, and whatever we have, somehow it would be more than enough, more than worthwhile.”

I promise you that if you ask God, seek God with all of your heart, God will answer you. If not, come see me, and we’ll pray together and ask God to help you to see, know, and feel God’s great love for you. Frederick Buechner writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” You don’t have to figure everything out now. It’s not a snap your fingers sort of thing. It’s a journey. It’s a process. There’s no pressure but as Mother Teresa says, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” We can ALL l do small things throughout the day, throughout our lives with great love.

We can also use our good treasures that God gives to each of us for the world.  I prayed over the stars you can pick up as you come forward for communion, I also put some on the back table as you leave.  These stars are symbols to help you remember to discover or fully claim who you are called to be and what you are called to do.  Your stars that you pick up represent the gifts and graces you have been given as well as a tangible reminder of the hopes, dreams, and passions as you envision your gifts being used to bring about the kingdom of God.  To help you see that you’re enough. Help you see you’re worthy to approach the throne of grace with confidence. You see these stars symbolize our lights shining collectively in the world. When you claim your talents for God, God is faithful and will multiply them in ways that we can only imagine.  It makes the light brighter, stronger, more full. These are not gifts to hoard; they are gifts to share with the world. Like “This Little Light of Mine” says, don’t be hiding your light under a bushel because the world wants and needs to see your light.

God chooses us just as we are.

Matthew 4:18-22

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Have you ever heard of “call stories?”  They are the stories of ordinary people that are used by God for a purpose.  The first scripture is one of the most famous call stories because Jesus took uneducated fishermen and called them to fish for people.   God chooses us as we are and as we lean into that we are called to be disciples who draw others to Jesus.

The fisherman left everything, nets and all.  They left family and friends.  They left everything that was familiar to them:  from their day to day routines to their favorite corner store or coffee shop.

How many of you were born before 1992?  Mike had the kids and I watch Sneakers this week and it was made in 1992.  He said he and his brothers watched it over and over again.  Have any of you heard Steven Curtis Chapman song For the Sake of the Call?  It came out in 1992 and my brothers and I knew as United Methodist preacher’s kids, when my mom played it, we were about to move!  That and Michael W. Smith’s song, Friends are Friends Forever.

scc_forthesake
(Don’t you love the mullet!)
Nobody stood and applauded them
So they knew from the start
This road would not lead to fame
All they really knew for sure
Was Jesus had called to them
He said “come follow Me” and they came
With reckless abandon, they came

Empty nets lying there at the water’s edge
Told a story that few could believe
And none could explain
How some crazy fishermen agreed to go where Jesus led
With no thought to what they would gain
For Jesus had called them by name
And they answered…

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die

We knew what my mom was getting at.  If God called our family to another church, we had to obey.  If you obey Jesus when he calls, life is going to be an adventure.  Has anyone ever seen Running Wild with Bear Grylls?*  I love that show.  The concept came after he first had Will Farrell join him in his first survival show.  In it, celebrities go on adventures with him and he teaches them survival lessons along the way.  It’s always a journey from point A to point B.  The celebrity doesn’t know the path and they balk when there’s heights or they have to eat something to survive like grubs or crickets or a squirrel or there’s only a small space between rocks and they’re claustrophobic.  He leads and they follow.  Sure they pitch fits along the way, sure they threaten to not go on…but in their fears is where I most see their humanity.  They’re real people at those moments and they obviously don’t care about what the camera is making them look like.  We’ve seen insights into some of the why’s and how’s of their fears and when they conquer them, it is a beautiful thing.   I used to think of the disciples much like Bear Grylls, rugged, with an adventurous, live on the edge spirit.  But they weren’t like that at the beginning of their trek with Jesus.  They were probably very much like these celebrities, albeit the celebrities have the right kind of gear.  Does God equip us with the right kind of gear for the road, no matter what road?

Did the four fishermen that Jesus called take their fishing nets with them?  Nope!  They didn’t know where the journey would take them.  They couldn’t carry luggage loaded onto a baggage cart.  As we talked about last week, we each have figurative baggage.  Most of us carry “stuff” and sometimes it’s like a security blanket.  That we hold onto.  We carry it with us wherever we go and we’re afraid to lay it down because it’s ours – the familiar and the comfortable.  Some of us like the prodigal have gotten so used to the pigs and the mud that we are stuck there and even those that are closest to us don’t know the full extent of our hurts.  The words that were used against us when we were younger that we’ve never told anyone.  The awkwardness of not feeling comfortable even in your own skin.  The voices in our heads of who society or our “friends” or what social media tells us we should be.  I dislike the way trolls can hide behind screens and say you’re too fat, you’re too skinny, you’re not smart/pretty/kind…..enough.  Jesus doesn’t want us drinking the haterade.  Jesus is asking you to go on a great adventure and you have to lay down your baggage, sometimes daily.  Guilt. Shame. Pride. Doubt. Fear. Self-Loathing.  Superhuman expectations.  The pressure we put on ourselves to measure up to this person or that person.  Lay it all down.  Take it off your shoulders.  Stop rolling that luggage around and repent.  Ask for forgiveness.  Let it all go.  If you pick it back up, repeat and ask the Holy Spirit to block you or your behavior from picking it back up.  Use a breath prayer.  Every time something comes into your mind or you revert into old familiar patterns of behavior, say “Lord Jesus take this from me” or “Lord in your mercy” or “My help is in You alone Lord” or “Not my will, but Yours.”

My son Enoch when he was in kindergarten got a color for every day for his behavior.  The colors were blue for an exceptional day, green for a good day, yellow for a one warning day, orange for a two warning day, and red if he had to go to the principal’s office.  He would stress out and worry over his color every day knowing that we expected mostly green days, but Enoch was a rambunctious and inquisitive child, so inevitably we were happy with the yellow days.  He would always get stressed out and upset if the teacher moved his color and that would affect his behavior as well.  He was in this cycle because he didn’t want to disappoint us.  I would explain to him that every day is a brand new day.  I would often quote the line in Anne of Green Gables, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”  Leave the mistakes of today and don’t carry them with you to tomorrow.  I will go farther still.  Leave the mistakes of all the yesterdays in the past.  Ask for forgiveness and then do 180 degree turn.  That’s what repentance is.  I saw a bumper sticker a long time ago that said, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” Let there be no doubt in your mind that Jesus scatters your sins and my sins from the east to the west and we are free.  Romans 8:14-16 says, “14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Let the mean thing that someone said about you go.  Let all of the expectations that the world has placed on you go.  Let all of the hatred and demonizing the other go.  You don’t have time for that.  You have a world to love.  If you let it, hate will blacken your heart.  As Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering.”  I love this quote from Marianne Williamson about fear.  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be.  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Our second scripture for today, John 15, is all about abiding in Christ and loving one another as we abide in Christ. Abide or meno in Greek means to stay, remain, accept, obey and heed.  Have you heard of the resting state on an MRI?  Resting state is a method of functional brain imaging that can be used to evaluate regional interactions that occur when a subject is not performing an explicit task.  In other words resting in the love and grace of God should be how we go through life.  If we rest in God’s love, it’s easier to show others God’s love.  John 15:16-18 says, “16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. 18 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.” 

We did not choose God, but God chose us that we may bear fruit in the world.  God seeks to be in right relationship with all of God’s children.  God’s prevenient grace, that grace that goes before we even realize it, is offered to everyone.  If we abide in God’s mercy in our resting state then it will be that much simpler to live into the full matrix of human life.  God says it won’t be easy, the world will hate us, just like it did him, but that’s all right.  If you speak the truth in love, some people won’t like that.  A word of caution here, if you are a truth teller, make sure you’re abiding in Christ, make sure you’re resting in the love of God, because you don’t want to do harm for harm’s sake.  You see the enemy wants to only steal, kill, and destroy, and he will use you to attack.  He doesn’t like when we tune into the Shepherd’s voice, when we listen to the voice of truth, our Savior’s voice.  That voice that tells us we’re somebody.

Remember my earlier rhetorical question about God equipping us for the road ahead?  God does and God will.  If you abide in the true vine and live to follow God’s heart and leading, God will give you everything you need.  You may be thinking that’s impossible.  Muhammad Ali said, “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” With God all things are possible.  With God all things ARE possible.  Amen?

“A seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One morning they were eating breakfast in a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet, family meal. While waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.”

But sure enough, the man came over to their table.  “Where are you folks from?” he asked in a friendly voice. “Oklahoma,” they answered. “Great to have you here in Tennessee,” the stranger said. “What do you do for a living?” “I teach at a seminary,” he replied. “Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I’ve got a really good story for you.” And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down. The professor groaned and thought to himself, “Great. Just what I need — another preacher story!”

The man started, “See that mountain over there?” He pointed out the restaurant window. “Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up because every place he went, he was always asked the same question: “Who’s your father?’ The whole town looked for a family resemblance, whether the boy was at school, in the grocery store or the drug store, people would ask the same question: “Who do you belong to?”  He would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. He would avoid going into stores because that question hurt him too much. When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the dreaded question. But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast, he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, ‘Son, who’s your dad?’ The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question of who his father was.  The new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to the scared and nervous boy: ‘Wait a minute! I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.’ With that, he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance — go and claim it.’ With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him who his father was, he’d just tell them, ‘I’m a child of God.’

The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, “Isn’t that a great story?” The professor responded that it really was a great story. As the man turned to leave, he said, “You know, if that new preacher hadn’t told me that I was one of God’s children, I probably would never have amounted to anything!” And he walked away.

The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked, “Do you know that man who was just sitting at our table?” The waitress grinned and said, “Of course. Everybody here knows him. That’s Ben Hooper. He’s the former governor of Tennessee!”

ben-hooper

Lo and behold, on one of our trips to Nashville, right across from a Cracker Barrel in Tennessee was a marker to Ben Hooper.  God actively pursues us.  God reaches for us.  God chooses us.  All we have to do is lay down our fears, baggage, and mistakes and trust in God’s abundant grace.  All we have to is follow where Jesus leads like the disciples that we are and abide in the true vine, that’s what the world is crying out for.  Something that’s real, and solid as a rock.  Something that could make fishermen leave their nets and go fish for people.  Something that neither moth nor rust will destroy.  “38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

(There’s a lot of calling out to God and bleeps but it’s funny.)

Worry

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

How many times have you heard those words, or something similar? The song, “Don’t worry, be happy” is certainly catchy, but not as “Hakuna Matata.” Maybe what you heard was a distinctive New York accent saying, “Fuggedaboudit!”

Those four words — “Don’t worry about it” — are, in combination with each other, possibly the most useless words in the English language.  You could say “no worries” and the words could mean very different things.  Someone could say them honestly “no worries” and it means genuinely don’t worry about it or they could say “no worries” because they’re really mad that you made something they cared about seem trivial or you said something to hurt their feelings and when they saw it, they brushed it off.

They’re useless not because banishing worry isn’t a good idea. Certainly, it is. Duh.  “Don’t worry about it” is advice routinely ignored and impossible to obey.  It’s a clichéd phrase that often doesn’t get at the weight or depth of the issue.

Some psychologists — borrowing language from medical science — draw a distinction between acute anxiety and chronic anxiety. Acute anxiety, they say, is related to some immediate threat. Leonardo DiCaprio when he comes face to face with the grizzly bear in The Revenant has acute anxiety.  You could say he’s experiencing acute anxiety and fear for most of the movie because he just reaches the double digits with his lines.

Yet, if you wake up each morning with a sense of free-floating dread, but have little idea where those dark forebodings come from — nor any idea when or how you’ll break free from them — then chances are, you’re a victim of chronic anxiety.  My mom calls this the worry cycle.  When you wake up every morning going down the list of worries…your family…your classes…your job…that particular test…that girl or guy that you like…what am I going to this summer…

The word “anxious” is historically related to a Latin word, angere, which literally means “to choke or strangle.” I figured it meant something along the lines of nervous, but I didn’t know it meant to choke or strangle.

There’s another English word that traces its lineage to the same Latin root. The word is angina — the sharp, piercing pain that precedes a heart attack. Angina arises when one of the coronary arteries becomes choked off by arterial plaque, blocking oxygen from reaching the heart muscle.

Anxiety, in other words, can kill you, if you let it fester.

Another English word that grows out of this Latin root, angere, is “anger.” Anxious people, as it so happens, are often angry people. They sense the breath of life being choked off from their soul, and so they lash out, flailing wildly in an effort to remove the threat, whatever they imagine it to be.

Anxious. Angina. Anger.  It would be so easy to link this to Star Wars as leading to the Dark Side, but I won’t.  In our 24 hour news cycle, we’ve gotten numb to the headlines. Would you say it is worse now, more violent now, more worrisome now?

Although we may imagine ourselves the most anxiety-ridden people ever, gazing back longingly, a quick look at the Scriptures reveals this is hardly the case. Speaking God’s word to the community of Israelites in Babylonian captivity, our text reminds us: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. … For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (vv. 2-3).  The good news of the salvation oracle in Isaiah 43 is that God directly addresses this experience of exile.

It can be hard for us to conceive just what Jewish people went through as they were uprooted from their homes, and transported to the Babylonian capital. Not everyone was compelled to relocate, of course — just the political, intellectual and economic elite, the ruling class. The Babylonian rulers seem to have followed the advice, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Settling the cream of Judah’s leadership in comfortable quarters, in a neighborhood of the city all their own, the Babylonian overlords made certain there were none from the defeated nation’s leadership who could raise a rebellion back home.

The entire identity of the Jewish people, by contrast, was rooted in their theological understanding of the land. They were proud to be the chosen people Moses had led out of Egypt to claim the land of milk and honey for their own. The land was the principal sign of the Lord’s favor, the continual reminder that they lived in a state of divine grace. The temple mount in Jerusalem was the spiritual center of their universe.   Remember God’s broader plan of salvation is for ALL people, unlike what those Turlington preachers say, but God focused attention on the shocking particularity of God’s love for this one people, Israel, for whom God would pay any price.

When all this was suddenly snatched away from them, not only for their immediate physical circumstances, but, also, whether they could maintain an identity as the Lord’s chosen people without that tangible reality of the Promised Land. They also wondered how they could worship God apart from the cherished temple rites. Their cry of despair is echoed in Psalm 137:4: “How could we sing the LORD’S song in a foreign land?”

Isaiah assures them. He gives the people a word from the Lord. “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Who but the Lord could accomplish such a wonder, redeeming the exiles from their hopeless situation? How could such a miraculous release from their captivity happen, unless the Lord willed it? This prophetic passage pictures the exiles’ journey home, passing even through rushing rivers without hindrance or danger.

The image of passing safely through the waters may recall Song of Songs 8:7: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” What miraculous power is it that brings the exiles home, across the mighty Euphrates, but divine love?  How is it that God can bring us out of the muck and mire of our own lives and set our feet on solid ground?

God is with us.  We are not the first generation of human beings to feel inundated by worry. True, we often use our mass-communications technology to construct an echo chamber to amplify our natural anxieties, but the fundamental psychological fact of worry is no different. By nature, we are a worrying people. At times, worry keeps us appropriately vigilant so we may fend off tangible threats. Yet, more often than not, it’s simply a burden.

Yet the Bible in today’s text reminds us that we need not fear.

We can live without anxiety because:

– God created us – In John Wesley’s notes he wrote about this particular passage.  “I have not only created them out of nothing, but I have also formed and made them my peculiar people.”  God formed us.  When you build or create something, you know it inside and out. God, as our Creator, knows us better than we know ourselves. Moreover, the text says, God redeemed us, God calls us by name and God says “you are mine.”

So worry is a lack of trust. If we truly believe that God says, “You are mine,” then how can we be anxious about the things that cross our paths?

This does not mean that there will not be waters to pass through, or fires to put out, but God promises to be our faithful shield and strength.

Such anxiety does not honor the God who created us, calls us by name and not only says “You are mine,” but “you are precious in my sight” (v. 4).

I invite y’all this week as worries or fears flood your minds and hearts, that you come up with 3-5 word phrase like, “Lord have mercy” or “God give me peace” that you say in your head as these thoughts come unbidden.  The Holy Spirit will lead and guide you and we as a community will be here for you.

The Bible says that we should “Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Here, the writer echoes the comforting voice of Isaiah the prophet.
Two Days We Should Not Worry

There are two days in every week about which we should not worry; two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.

One of these days is Yesterday with all its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains.

Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday.

We cannot undo a single act we performed; we cannot erase a single word we said. Yesterday is gone forever.

The other day we should not worry about is Tomorrow. With all its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promise and its poor performance, Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control.

Tomorrow’s sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds, but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in Tomorrow, for it is yet to be born.

This leaves only one day, Today. Any person can fight the battle of just one day. It is when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities Yesterday and Tomorrow that we break down.

It is not the experience of Today that drives a person mad. It is the remorse or bitterness of something which happened Yesterday and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring that renders a person wild with anxiety. Let us, therefore, live but one day at a time.

–Author unknown.

Matthew 6:25-34 says it this way, “25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Chronic anxiety — unlike the acute variety — isn’t based on outside threats. It rises from within. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  The great God of the Universe knows your name.  And some of y’all may freak out at that.  Don’t worry.  Confident that you are more than your name, that you are first and foremost a baptized and beloved child of God, you can look at the world, and even around your neighborhood, with new eyes.  How would that affect how we live?  If we know the Living God?  How would that shape us being in the world?  Do we spread peace that way?  Would that affect how we see the challenges that come daily into our personal world?  And the broader world?  I’ll let you wrestle with those questions.  It’s easy to say what we would do, it’s much harder to banish worry from hearts and minds, to act as peace agents in the world, seeing if we could help, only a little, and trusting God will be our strong fortress……all the days of our life.  Amen.

 

The C Word (and it’s not Cancer)

You know how in different seasons, there are specific words or lessons or visuals that seem to keep popping up in your life?  Maybe that doesn’t occur for everyone but for at least for some of us stubborn folks, it’s like God has to drop clues all over the place for us to actually get the picture.  The thing that keeps coming up to me right now is this idea and belief in community.

For those of you that read the blog (or at least when I used to write regularly) you know this is something I talk about A LOT.  Probably annoyingly so at times.  It’s the thing that I’m most passionate about.  The thing that I believe is integral to the body of Christ and to any semblance or form of Christian life.  You just can’t get around it.  But for some reason, in this move and transition which was months ago at this point, I’ve pulled back a little from it.  I don’t know if it’s new places, new people, new community building, or the grief and loss or change of old close community, but there’s something that is raw inside me around this concept.

I then start to think about student and campus ministry life and how hard it is to transition in from high school community to college community and then transition from college community to being out in the wide, wide world.  I also think about how hard it is to transition from friend groups and single life to married life and professional life and all these in between times and the things that work out and don’t and how so many, random things affect how we view community, who we think are part of our “tribe,” and what we need from community.  It’s not all about what we get out of it and it’s not all about what we put into it, but it seems to be this dance of times and places and seasons.

What are the things that hold us back from real community?  Not pseudo surface-level stuff, but showing people the cracks and vulnerabilities.  I think it’s scary.  It’s unnerving.  We want to be stronger and more patient and more perfect on the outside than the swirl of gunk on the inside.  It gets messy.  It takes a lot of time and real sharing.  It sometimes makes us feel like we’re on display, left wide open or being dissected.  But are these some of the same things that hold us back from fully sharing with God?  Or fully sharing from the heart all aspects of our lives?

I know that not everyone is going to get along and gel 100% of the time.  I’m not talking about being bff’s with everyone you meet.  I’m not even talking about everyone “liking” each other even though I believe we’re all called to love each other and live in community together.  I do challenge us to pause and think before we speak.  I concede that sometimes our guard has to be let down to create those thin places where God can speak to us.  I hope and pray that the world doesn’t see how we fight, bicker and belittle each other, but how we love, support, uphold, and care for one another.

For me, the song that’s been holding me through this season is Phillip Phillips’ “Home.”  Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Manna

The highlighted verse in The Upper Room online this morning was Numbers 11:5-6 (NRSV), “The Israelites murmured, ‘We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing…but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

This speaks powerfully to me today.  As a family we’ve been discerning what the future holds for us.  Where is God leading us, how will God provide for us, what are we “supposed” to do???  So many questions surround these decisions and weigh on each of our hearts.

Over the past few months, Mike and I have transitioned out of a place that we loved and cared about and from a worship service that we helped create and foster and grow over many years.  There are definitely seasons for everything and I believe that to be true, but there’s also grief and loss as seasons change and it’s sometimes hard to see the daily provisions in that.  

As these changes have happened, that has meant a new economic reality for our family and I write about this not looking for some quick fix or answer, but because I think there are a lot of people in our churches and communities and families that are struggling in these economic times and are asking some of the same questions that Mike and I are asking.  There are friends’ facebook statuses that I see talking about eating peanut butter sandwiches at the end of the month and their couponing exploits and I know there are many people that are living wisely and practically, trusting not just in God’s provision but also being wise about what we’ve been given.  I had the pleasure of hearing my brother, Josh’s sermon series on Stewardship some this fall and he really brought to life all that it means to be a good steward as we give our time, our presence, our gifts and our service.

Sometimes we’ve become used to all of the extras of life – like that coffee from Starbucks or being able to get that skirt from Target or the luxury of cable tv and we forget the beauty and sustenance of the manna that God provides us every day.  Times may get tough and things might get real tight (how many ways can you use the whole chicken – a lot apparently) but God is with us providing for us each step of the way in big and small ways and giving us the wake up calls and the encouragement we need to move forward in wisdom and faith.

May we treasure these gifts and those that neither most nor rust will destroy.  May we trust that no matter where God leads, that God “gives us this day our daily bread” and that manna is not something for us to look down upon, but something that is a visible sign of God’s provision.  This manna is not just money, by any means, but it’s the daily sustaining through those beautiful ways that God draws us to God’s self each day.  What that means for us is that in the midst of that trusting, we must also be intentional and committed to our prayer life and to being open to God’s leading and promise in our lives.

This is one of my goals for the year, to see the manna as valuable and as grace given to me, not just as something to take for granted.  May it be so!

How has God provided for you? How do you see God’s daily providence? What does this manna also call us to do in our communities and how does it shape the living out of our lives and faith?

Great Commission not just for Superheroes…

Yesterday morning’s lectionary text, Matthew 28:16-20 was one of the most well-known scripture passages around.  It’s commonly known as The Great Commission.  In verse 18 it says, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

There’s a lot summed up right there.  Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t have Jesus ascending into heaven or promising that the Holy Spirit is coming to help them.  Matthew has the disciples showing up to a mountain where Jesus told them to go and both the ones who began to worship Jesus and the ones who doubted all being commissioned to go ye and tell the world.  He didn’t just commission the Super Christians that had done everything right (do those even exist anyway?).  Jesus commissioned these eleven – a motley crew – to go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Trinity, and teaching them to obey the commands of Christ.  Surely some of these were gung ho and ready to go.  Surely some of them were a little scared and wondering what was going to happen next.  Surely at least one of them thought – wow, that was a cool three years, is this about the time I go back to my day job?

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to participate in my brother Josh’s ordination service.  During the ordination service at a certain point you go up to the altar and there the Bishop, your District Superintendent and two people who have touched your life in some way or who have helped you on your journey to ministry, all lay hands upon you.  I was honored to lay some hands on the little bro.  Listening to the words the Bishop said to him reminded me of my own ordination.  One of the parts that stands out is where the Bishop says something about authority.  I actually carry the cards she read from in my Bible as a reminder of what I was ordained to.  Here’s what they say:

Narcie McClendon Jeter, take authority as an Elder to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

There’s more to the whole service course, but there’s something important about that authority part.  Not that we want the ordinands walking around with big heads and saying what’s up, look at me, I’ve got it all figured out now and I’m taking my authority and running with it.  Not even.  But there’s something about this ordination, the laying on of hands and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit that lets you know for sure and for certain, that it’s not about you.  It’s about this larger story that you’re apart of.  It’s about all of the years that you’ve worked, all the hoops, all the times of doubt and struggle, but even more than that it’s about this Greatest Story Ever Told that we’re apart of.

Enoch has now turned 4 and he’s close to 4 feet and the size of one much older than him.  If you try to put the straw into the CapriSun for him, walk across the street holding hands, put him in his booster seat, you’ll hear him say these now familiar words.  “By myself, Mommy.  I do by myself.”  There’s something inherent in us that wants to do things by ourselves, by our own might, our own smarts, our own strength, our own glory.  Yes there’s the natural claiming of one’s identity and independence, but there’s also something in us that wants to do it by ourselves and not ask for or need someone else’s help.  I hear the “I do by myself, Mommy” so loudly and clearly and confidently.

Jesus with all the authority of heaven has commissioned us (sent us out with blessing) to preach the Good News but we don’t have to do it by ourselves.  There’s a tension there.  It’s not all on whether we do everything right, have the most energy or enthusiasm or have all the right words to say.  A little secret – we don’t suddenly get ordained and have everything figured out with the perfect eulogy, all knowledge of scripture and the ability to pray beautifully on command.  So it’s not all about us or our merits, but we do have to DO something.  It’s not about earning anything, but it is a command to GO and make disciples and baptize and teach and remember.  Those are action words.  It’s not based on our power, but God’s power.

Enoch is loving superheroes right now.  Somehow he heard about Iron Man and Spider Man and Batman and he loves them.  He wants to pretend to be them, he plays with the action figures, the whole thing.  We can’t let him watch a lot of the cartoons because they’re scary and violent but he still loves the whole idea of these heroes.  We were talking to him about Sunday school last week in the car on the way to church yesterday and he was talking to my mom about Jesus healing the paralytic man and how the man got up off his mat and walked.  Enoch started asking a lot of why and how questions.  Why did Jesus heal him?  Why did he need healing?  How did Jesus heal him?  It finally ended with – because Jesus is powerful.  Jesus is powerful.

Jesus is powerful.  More powerful than any superhero – Iron Man, Green Lantern, Black Widow, any of them.  It’s not about our power in this Great Commission, it’s about God’s power.  It’s about being willing to go forth and tell all nations.  Not just the people in our church already.  Not just the people in the USA.  Not just the people that look like, act like or believe like us.  Or the reverse of that – it’s not just about going to some far off place like Fiji, India or Zimbabwe to tell people about Christ.  We have to look around right here, in our time and place and live not just by our lives and actions but also by our words, the Great Commission.

What does this commission of God mean to us?  What does it mean that Jesus called these folks, not great scholars or awesome speakers, not just ones full of faith, but also those with their doubts?  Who are the “all nations” or all people that we are called to reach out to?  How does our life, our home, our family, our community, our church show by our words and actions that we are taking this Great Commission seriously?

Those are questions to think about, pray over and wrestle with.  It seems like a tall order at times.  Especially verse 20 – “and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  That’s a lot of stuff to teach.  It seems pretty big.  But we can’t forget the promise, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  We are not alone in this journey.  We are not alone in this task.  We are not alone in this great story.  We just have to be willing to be an active part of this tapestry of movement within our world.  We have to trust that even when things look darkest and at their most doubtful that God is with us and we have been given the blessing and the commissioning to go and tell the world about this great God we serve.

What does the Great Commission mean to you?

What are those little nudgings from God about ways to serve or ideas that may seem impossible or people that you just can’t stop thinking about, praying for, and wondering about, or the things you keep wanting to do but putting off?  Often God calls us toward something, long before we answer.  What is God laying upon your heart?  What is holding you back?  Who are the bad guys/girls that your superhero is facing?  What fears and concerns can possibly stand up to the power and majesty of Christ?

May we not push aside or compartmentalize, may we not put off until another day.  May we embrace and wrestle and intentionally wonder and vision and ask God to lead us and guide us as we depend on God’s power and might to carry us forward.

Tears

Annual Conference this year was both a whirlwind and a marathon.  Busy-ness or business was everywhere and it was both challenging and inspiring, a call to action and a test of will as we waited/persevered to the end.

I’m starting to think I’ve become more and more emotional as I grow older.  There were several times over this past week when I felt tears come to my eyes.  Some of those times were times of happiness and thanksgiving – feeling the Spirit move as Telley preached at Annual Conference, Josh’s ordination, the prayerful and powerful way our South Carolina delegation laid hands on Dad and prayed over him after unanimously deciding he would be our episcopal nominee.  There were so many great moments from the teaching to the preaching to the videos shared like this:

It was also a great time to camp out for Imagine No Malaria and to train some amazing Students In Mission (SIM) to commit their summers to being in mission = ministry with.  Much to be joyful about!

Sometimes the tears were both thankful and a little bit of just overwhelming gratitude.  It was surreal being back at Annual Conference this year.  Last year, I came in for two days right before the brain surgery and although some probably thought I was insane for coming, for me, it was my church.  The conference – both lay and clergy – are our people and that’s where we as a body share our joys and concerns.  I didn’t realize going into this how much being back at conference would bring up for me in terms of last year’s struggle.

We sang the song, “In Christ Alone” during the opening worship and those words and all of us a large body singing together was such a powerful witness and testimony to the love and providence of God.  (A video and lyrics are below.)  I’m glad we also sang this song during the ordination.  What a powerful song for our commissioned members and ordinands.

My mom’s birthday is June 11th and the brain surgery (left frontal craniotomy) was on her birthday last year.  There’s a part of me that would love to forget that date and not have any mark or reminder of it.  There’s another part of me that knows that it was everyone’s prayers and the grace of God that brought me through and it should be celebrated.  Don’t know which one is winning yet.  The jury is still out.  I get teary just typing about it.  Does that mean I haven’t fully dealt with it yet?  Could be.  Too soon?  Maybe, but not entirely.  Does that mean that was a mucho grande big deal and it’s still crazy to me that all of that happened a year ago and wasn’t just a bad dream?  Yes.  It’s hard to believe that that was me and if I didn’t have my lovely scar that I worry about getting sunburned, I might forget.

It’s hard to process things.  There’s a certain grief and emotion that swells up when you least expect it sometimes.  And it happens to all of us.  I was sitting in the Memorial Service for ministers that have gone to be with God over the past year on Mom’s birthday on the anniversary of my brain surgery and I just couldn’t do it.  I got through the sermon but the slide show of the pictures just did me in.  It’s always been a powerful service to me since in my mind the South Carolina Annual Conference is my home/my church and I know that one day there will be a service for each of us.  And there goes a Sandi Patti song and slides of the pastor that helped during my Gandaddy’s funeral and I have to head on out.  Even in the midst of the thanksgiving for life, even in the midst of the joy of the swelling of the Spirit, even in the midst of realizing that nothing can pluck any of us from God’s hand – there’s still both the realization that something really scary and really serious happened and a something that’s even beyond the word thanksgiving that describes that depth of feeling behind all that could have been and is now.

As I think about those that have faced such devastation in the storms and floods this year, those that have lost loved ones, those that are facing moves and transitions, those that are searching for hope and a rock to lean on when it feels like the walls are closing in around you – I know that the great Comforter is at work in our world and is blowing, inspiring and surrounding us every step of the way.  I am grateful that it is in Christ alone our hope is found and that we will never be turned away from it.  It’s available to each of us.

What are you grieving today?  What are your struggles?  When’s the last time you felt that ground swell of emotion?  How do we see the Spirit at work in our world?  What are the fears and frustrations that we’ve held on to and not given over to God?  What are those buttons of grief that can be turned in to sources of joy in our lives?

We are given songs or videos or movies or sermons or scriptures or friends or emails or a beautiful tree or the melody of the ocean or the stillness and quiet to claim as our promise from God.  It’s there waiting for us.  May we open ourselves to the Word God would speak to us this day.  May we claim it and know it and feel it to the depths of our souls.  May we know and trust.

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless Babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save

Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory
Sin?s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

I will stand, I will stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground, all other ground
Is sinking sand, is sinking sand
So I stand