Halfway Point

So I’m halfway through the radiation treatments and I have had very little side effects – occasional nausea, hair loss, and headaches.  But I’ve got some great wigs in a variety of colors!

This song came on the radio, as I was heading into radiation.  The chorus

“You’re the one who conquers giants
You’re the one who calls out kings
You shut the mouths of lions
You tell the dead to breathe
You’re the one who walks through fire
You take the orphan’s hand
You are the one Messiah
You are I am
You are I am”

We certainly serve an audacious God.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JI4CPfuLW0

The lectionary text for this past week, shows Jesus casting out demons.  I think of the Florence and the Machine song “Shake it Off” with the lyrics “Every demon wants his pound of flesh….And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back…So shake him off”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0cjxmMDNFo

We serve an audacious God.  The Upper Room devotional had this verse from Psalm 62:8 this morning, “Trust in [God] at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”  These are my reminders that God is faithful to deliver and no matter how my foolish pride may get in the way, I can always pour out my heart to God.

Renew, Restore, Uphold

As we continue through our Lenten journey, looking towards Holy Week – these verses are a challenge, a promise and a prayer. “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. . . . Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” – Psalm 51:10, 12

The sentences above was my facebook status this morning.  The passage came from the online Upper Room readings this morning.  I don’t know about you, but I needed to hear them.  It is so easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life and all of the things that “have” to get done, that at least for me, the things that I treasure sometimes get pushed aside.  There’s only so long that we can spin like tops like in Inception without completely stopping and getting skewed.  

I think some of us see God as the One that keeps the top spinning.  We see God as the strength to get us through the next thing and the next and the next.  This time of year when there’s just a month left in the semester, in many ways I cling to that image of God giving us the strength, perseverance, and grace to keep moving and going and completing the things that we need to complete and remembering the things we need to remember.  

For some of us, it’s harder to see God as the One that sometimes is this one to stop the top mid-spin.  If you’re in the middle of dancing to a good song or jamming in your car, you don’t want the song to suddenly go off either by someone changing the channel or an emergency test or you arriving at your location.  Sometimes though it takes this sometimes awkward pause to wake us up to realize that we’ve been running on our own steam and in our own self-centeredness and self-involvement and that we haven’t connected to the One who sustains us in awhile.

It’s not that we haven’t been doing what we need to do.  It’s not that I haven’t gone to worship or small group or done the “minister” stuff, but no matter how long the to do list is and no matter how many directions our minds are pulled in whether in worry or day dreaming or whatever, sometimes we need to press the pause button and reconnect with the One who is providing us with the music.

My prayer for myself and each of us is that if we’re speeding through this Lenten journey and we’re thinking we’re in the home stretch, that we’re just as attentive now to God’s leading as we were when we started this journey on Ash Wednesday.  My hope is that we’re just as committed, disciplined and awakened to God’s joy and presence now as when we first believed.  May God speak to us in clear and powerful ways and may we have ears to listen and hearts ready to receive.  May our lives be renewed and restored, and may we trust that God will uphold us today, tomorrow and forevermore!

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This is a true outside of Wesley where I've gotten to watch some persevering green silk worms slowly and surely make their way. May we fit into God's rhythm the same way.

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.

Prayer

This Sunday’s Gospel lectionary text is Luke 11:1-13.  It begins with the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray and Jesus teaching them Lord’s prayer followed by him talking about seeking and finding and words that I say in just about every other sermon or talk with students at one time or another.  Very familiar words… “Ask, and it will be given you; search and you fill find; knock, and hte door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Then it goes on talking about eggs and scorpions.  It’s a rich text.  And when I picked it at the beginning of the week when I working on the bulletin, I really wanted to work on it and see where the Spirit led because while saying the Lord’s prayer in the midst of The Journey service last week, I actually stumbled over some of the words – can’t even remember which ones now – because I was thinking about what they actually meant and what we’re actually saying when we say that familiar and yet powerful prayer.

I admit that as often is the case when I pick a text as time gets closer to Sunday I start to second guess and think that I might should have gone with one of the others.  It is always awe-inspiring for me to think about all of the little and amazing things that God brings to us when we’re wrestling with something.  This week it has been prayer for me.  Part of me does regret picking that text because there’s a part of me that’s not ready to think seriously and openly about this text after the events of the past couple months.  It’s still a little too personal to put into a sermon or to reflect on.

Mike brought in the poster board card that the folks at SC’s Annual Conference made me while I was having surgery.  Who knows how it ended up in my trunk and I have no clue who brought it from Florence but it ended up in Wesley on Thursday morning as Mike was cleaning out my trunk.  I can’t say how much those prayers meant to me and continue to mean to me.  I can’t begin to express how much I want to keep asking and knocking on that door in prayer in hope.

I’ve been reading various women’s books over all this time out of sheer boredom from doctor’s office visits and when the kids are watching that episode of Caillou or Dora or Phinneas and Ferb for the millionth time.  (Sidenote:  most women’s books are so depressing and sad – does no one believe in happy endings anymore besides the Christian fiction authors???)  One of my dear students here let me borrow The Time Traveler’s Wife before she left for the summer.   Beautiful story.  Deep love.  I will never watch the movie because it’s more sad than I want, but beautiful.  Yet again I do think God brings random things into our lives that wake us up to a truth we need to see or things we need to realize or just that guidance that we can’t always even understand.  In reading the ending of that book – I found myself realizing that even though I have prayed and felt uplifted throughout this journey and I have appreciated the prayers of so many, I’ve never actually cried out specifically for God to heal me. 

It kind of freaks me out even to type it.  I know that’s weird.  Especially for a pastor that does believe that prayer can do miraculous things.  And someone that does believe in the “Heal me and I will be healed.  Save me and I will be saved.  For you alone are God.”  So in thinking about the sermon that I have no idea what I’m going to really say tomorrow – what makes us afraid to ask or knock or seek?  What holds us back?  What stands in our way?

Crying out to God that night, trying to figure it out – I don’t know.  It’s a lot of things.  Fear that it won’t happen.  Fear of what healing really means and for how long.  Fear that even if everything is healed, I won’t know how to go back to life as usual.  Is it pride?  Do I pray for others but not want to pray for myself?  Why is that?  I’m no more resilient or together and certainly not any more godly.  Is it that I see people all around every day and I hear stories of people that need healing so much more and I wonder and rail that I’m sure some of them ask, seek, and knock and where are their good gifts and not scorpions?  I just saw a blip of Ann Curry’s special on the Today Show with the family of 10 living on $500 a month and I’m like why am I even taking the time to write a blog or eating lifesaver gummies when there are people out there that are struggling and hurting needing “good gifts” as much as the rest of us.

Do we think we’re not good enough to ask?  Or not deserving enough?  Or needy enough?  Or nice enough?  What is it that holds us back from prayer?  What makes it hard to ask and give these things over?  Control?  Pride?  Fear?  Anger at what we’ve seen as unanswered prayer?

In watching Anne of Green Gables on PBS for a couple weekends I noticed how Marilla first taught Anne how to pray and she explained to her in a very simple manner – that she should thank God for God’s blessings and then ask God if there’s something she’d like.  Hilarious scene.  Sadly youtube does not have it.  I think about the whole ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  I think of all the prayer circles and prayer ministries and prayer shawls (and Windsor UMC I love the one y’all made me!  it is in my office and i’ve already had a couple students wrap in it and i hope feel your prayers!).  I read this passage and think very layered/complicated back and forth theology blah, blah, blah statements but you know it’s really pretty simple.  Ask – it will be given, search – find, knock – door open.  It’s not complicated.  And yet somehow we make it so in our minds.  Or maybe that’s just mine.

I don’t have all the answers and I feel sure that I won’t have come up with them by tomorrow morning at 11 am, but I do know that God is a God of love and that God does love us as God’s very own.  So those scorpions or the AIDS or the heart attacks or the car accidents or the cancers or the abuse or the hurricanes are not from God.  They can be used by God for our good but our God knows us, loves us and seeks the best for us.

Maybe that’s what it boils down to…the trust and the faith to believe not only that God answers prayer and that God hears us, but that God is love and is good and is not going to bait and switch us and give us a mouse trap to stick our fingers in instead of an awesome gigantic lollipop.  It is with confidence and boldness that we pray knowing that we are heard and held by the great God of the universe.  We can cry out when we’re starting a new job, or a new school, or a new adventure and we will be answered.  We can continue to ask the hard questions and wrestle and just not understand and as we seek, surely we will find…Can’t wait for each of us to knock on that door and to see the warm light and smile when the door is opened.

Found this from Celine Dion and Josh Groban on youtube.  I know a little cheesey but I do think there’s a love and emotion in there that is present in these passages about prayer…that love of parent and child – that guidance and leading.

I pray you’ll be our eyes, and watch us where we go.
And help us to be wise in times when we don’t know
Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way
Lead us to the place, guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe

The light you have
I pray we’ll find your light
will be in the heart
and hold it in our hearts.
to remember us that
When stars go out each night,
you are eternal star
Nella mia preghiera
Let this be our prayer
quanta fede c’è
when shadows fill our day

How much faith there’s
Let this be our prayer
in my prayer
when shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

We dream a world without violence
a world of justice and faith.
Everyone gives the hand to his neighbours
Symbol of peace, of fraternity
We ask that life be kind
and watch us from above
We hope each soul will find
another soul to love

The force his gives us
We ask that life be kind
is wish that
and watch us from above
everyone finds love
We hope each soul will find
around and inside
another soul to love
Let this be our prayer
Let this be our prayer, just like every child

Need to find a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe
Need to find a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

It’s the faith
you light in us
I feel it will save us