Something is Different about this Rabbi

Matthew 4:12-23

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18As 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 sea—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.

23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

 

Did you notice how Matthew made reference to the prophet Isaiah?  Matthew’s gospel in particular is geared towards a Jewish audience.  The other gospel authors don’t reference the prophet Isaiah in this passage, but Matthew wants to create a compelling case for his people that this man, Jesus, is whom the prophets foretold.  This is the person we have waited for.  In verse 16, “16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”  People in darkness crave the light with an unquenchable thirst and he’s letting the world know that the Light has come – by his use of prophets and stories and parables and miracles.  He’s making a case that Jesus is the Messiah.

People sometimes wonder why God chose to come to earth when Jesus did. Do you ever wonder what was special about that time and that place? Was it a dark time in history?  Did they have massive amounts of turmoil in all the world?  What was so special about first-century Palestine that made for the perfect time for the in-breaking of the Light of the world? There are all sorts of great answers in hindsight. For one, the world was primed for the spread of the Gospel. The Greek and then Roman Empires had built an infrastructure that spread across continents. There were established roads and trade routes and seafaring technology, common languages and schools, military protection and the rule of law. These Empires persecuted the Church, yes, but the Church was also able to kind of harness the systems in place to spread the Good News guerrilla-style.

There are lots of other interesting facts in the first century that made it a prime time for Jesus’ ministry, but the one that particularly interests us today, and for the next several weeks of our series together, is something that was a central piece in the Jewish culture. I’m talking about the role or the office of the rabbi. The Rabbi. Now, up front, I want you to know that this isn’t a focus and function sermon.  What is the text saying and what does that call us to do as Christians? Rather, it’s about following a sort of trail that will lead us into our “At the Feet of the Rabbi” sermon series. Not a rabbit trail, but a rabbi trail. HA! No, but seriously, if this is the main role that Jesus lived out of in his culture, it can tell us much about what he was doing, teaching, and living and what it means to actually follow him.

To unpack this, we start our trail in the childhood of the average Jewish kid in Jesus’ day. For the ancient Jews, much like us, a person’s introduction to God and faith started as early as possible. Not only that, but the Jews believed that teaching their kids the Word of God was their first priority in life. They believed that you had to really embed Scripture deep in the bones of the next generation, because if you didn’t, you were only a generation away from being extinct as a people. For example, Dr. Thomas Thangaraj was one of my favorite professors at Candler.  He helped shape immensely the inter-religious ministry I took part in during my Contextual Education with Religious Life at Emory.  He is a 7th generation Indian Christian from Nazareth, India.  The disciple Thomas of Doubting Thomas fame was said to have visited all over the coast of India and he comes from a town that was discipled by the Apostle Thomas.  He did most of his work on training Christians to talk with people of other faiths, specifically Hindu, and he wrote The Crucified Guru.  He shared this personal story during one of our class times, as he studied Hindu more and more, his father urged him, begged him not “to mess this up” because their family had been Christians for 7 generations.  How much more so, would it have been for God’s chosen people, Israel?  This wasn’t overblown anxiety, it was real. It was their heritage.  Where they came from.  Remember, Israel’s history was one of persecution, battle, exile and enslavement.  They were in a continuous spin cycle all throughout the Old Testament where they disobeyed God’s laws, God sent them a prophet, they didn’t listen, and they were conquered, exiled, and nearly wiped out completely. It was the real deal for them, saying “Our children HAVE to KNOW who our people are, and who God is, and what God commands.” The children of Israel needed to know their rich culture, deep heritage, the oral history of their past, present and future story.

So, they started early. One teacher gave this advice:  “Under the age of six we do not receive a child as a pupil; from six upwards accept him and stuff him (with Torah) like an ox.” Ha. Awesome, right? This was taken very seriously. There were three phases of education for Jewish kids, and the first one, kind of like elementary school, was called Bet Sefer. Repeat after me: Bet Sefer. It means “House of the Book” and in Bet Sefer, kids ages 6-10 were tasked to learn the Torah, the first five books of our Bible, from Genesis to Deuteronomy. And when I say learned, I mean really they had to memorize it. All of it.  If we had to memorize the begats or all of the laws in Leviticus, could we? Could our kids hack it?  Well, as Rob Bell said in his NOOMA video, it’s not that we don’t have the mental capacity for this anymore – how many of you know every single word to the albums you played over and over in high school? How many of you can recite every line from your favorite movies?  Mike and I were stunned when we heard the song “Peaches” that I knew all the words.  I don’t know which brother had the tape, but I remember it was an orange tape and we listened to it over Christmas when we were trying to create a hangout place in the shed in our back yard.  What a ridiculous song to know.  So we have the capacity, it’s a determination of what’s important to us and if we want to do it.

Just to instill how important God’s Word was, in that first phase of education, even on the first day of class, the Rabbi would take honey and cover the slate or desk of the students. Now, honey was incredibly exotic and valuable and seen as the most pleasurable thing to eat, like Turkish Delight in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  After covering everything the Rabbi would say, “Now, lick it all off.” And as they went to town licking it all off, he would say, “May the words of Scripture be like this to you” – exotic and valuable and pleasurable.  Words that you treasure.   Powerful, right?  That was Bet Sefer.

Now, the second phase of education was even tougher. This was like middle school, and it was rarer for kids to make it this far. Only those who passed Bet Sefer advanced to Bet Talmud, which means “House of Learning.” It was for kids 10-14. In Bet Talmud, the students were tasked with memorizing all the rest of the Hebrew scriptures, through Malachi. Not only that, but they started to really dig into the text and use the art of question and answer. For instance, our Western style of education says, “here’s the exam, spit out the info.” The test says, “2+2=___.” But the Rabbi’s method was to ask something like, “What is 2+2?” and he expected to be answered by a question, “Well, what is 16 divided by 4?” Tricky, right? They were creating this working knowledge. One of the scriptures my mom made us memorize as kids was Luke 2:52, “Jesus grew in wisdom and knowledge, and in favor of God and man.”  Remember Jesus at the age 12 was in the temple, is there among the wise men, and we get the sense that this is what was happening. Bet Talmud.

Finally, for those who passed middle school, there came phase three, like high school and an Ivy League college combined. It was called Bet Midrash, meaning “House of Study.” These kids were the best of the best of the best. At age 13 or 14, they would apply and hope to be invited by a Rabbi to go into apprenticeship.

Late one evening, a rabbi is sitting out with his students, watching the stars appear in the heavens one by one. “Tell me this,” asks the teacher: “how can we know when the night is ended and the day has begun?”

One eager young man jumps right in. “You know the night is over and the day has begun when you look off across the pasture and can tell which animal is a dog and which is a sheep.”

The teacher says nothing, gazing off into the distance.

“Is this the right answer?” the young man asks, after a time.

“It is a good answer, but not the answer I am looking for,” replies the teacher.

“Let me try,” says another student. “You know the night is over and the day has begun when the light falls on the leaves, and you can tell if it is a palm tree or a fig tree you’re looking at.”

“That too is a fine answer, but not the one I am looking for.”

“Then, what is the right answer?” demand the students. “Rebbe, answer your own question!”

The teacher looks out over the eager young crowd of disciples and replies, “When you look into the eyes of a human being and see a brother or sister, you know that it is morning. If you cannot see a sister or brother, you know that it will always be night.”

In this phase, it wasn’t just about knowing Scripture. Your Rabbi would teach you everything he knew. Everything he had learned from his Rabbi. Everything he knew about other Rabbi teachings. As well as, his own unique interpretation of it all. This special kind of course of study was known as the Rabbi’s “yoke.” The Rabbi hoped to have a strong school of apprentices, because one day when the Rabbi was no more, he wanted to be sure the yoke was passed on. Some yokes were about perfectionism and rigid rule-following. Others were about pride and being well-known. Some Rabbis were incredibly selective because they wanted their yoke to be the most rare and unattainable. Others were interested in having the biggest following. Whatever the case, this was like making the NBA or NFL for Jewish children. So many of them didn’t make the cut. And when a kid was told they weren’t good enough at some point, the Rabbi would come to them and say, “I’m sorry, now it’s time for you to return home and learn the family trade. Go and have many children and if God blesses you maybe one of them will one day be a Rabbi.”

Do we start to hear just how much the office of the Rabbi was revered?  The word Rabbi itself actually comes in two parts. The first half is rab. Repeat after me. Rab. It means, great in every way: much, many, big, strong, powerful. You might even say “yuge.” Rab. The second half is the little sound i. In Hebrew, adding the sound i to the end of a word made it personal and possessive. It could be translated as “my.” In other words, the Rabbi was “MY great one”  — the best of the best of the best, who was also the personal one that I’d chosen for myself, or who had chosen me.

Y’all, all of that makes up the backdrop of understanding who Jesus was and is.

For one, why were the disciples in Matthew 4 by the sea fishing? Because they hadn’t made the cut at some point. They were “didn’t make its.” Not only that, but why did they abandon everything, and their dad, and just jet off after Jesus? Because when a Rabbi said, “Follow me,” this was your chance. Why did Jesus say things like, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light?” Because his yoke, his teaching, wasn’t weighed down with human nonsense or empty rules…his was built on his own sacrifice and grace. But to understand him as Rabbi also lends a lot more weight to statements like, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Because following a Rabbi wasn’t just sitting in a classroom with a teacher, it was physically and emotionally and spiritually, full-bodied following. Going where they went, learning what they taught, doing as they did.  It was more than rules; it was embodying how Jesus lived.

I once saw a Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown says to Violet: “Just think of it: the dirt and dust of far-off lands blowing over here and settling on ‘Pig-Pen.'”

“It staggers the imagination!” Charlie continues. “He may be carrying soil that was trod upon by Solomon or Nebuchadnezzar or Genghis Khan!”

Pig-Pen: “That’s true, isn’t it?”

In the next frame he’s saying with unaccustomed pride: “Sometimes I feel like royalty!”

We should feel like royalty too, because if we follow our Rabbi, we really follow Jesus.  We will have his dust all over us.  What it means, y’all, is that when we listen to the Sermon on the Mount the next few weeks, we aren’t just hearing words or teaching like any old sermon. We are joining the people in sitting at the feet of a Rabbi. Our Rabbi. And that makes us more than just students or listeners, but disciples, actively walking in his ways.  People charged with taking up his unique yoke, living it, and passing it on.

 

We are Chosen FOR Something

(Hold on to your hats ladies and gents!  This is a long scripture.  I know you can handle it!)

Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

The Parable of the Talents

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.’

This is one of those head scratching texts because it seems like such a harsh ending.  You have to remember Jesus is telling a parable.  He’s alluding to some deep truth or lesson while telling a story that conveys meaning.  It’s sometimes a comparison or analogy, and even the disciples couldn’t figure some of them out.  A common theme throughout our “Chosen Series” is that fear limits us from doing what we can with the talents God has given us.   And that’s the difference in the third slave in our scripture, he was afraid…so he buried his talent…He let fear of the Master cripple him.  God does not call us to have a spirit of fear but of boldness.  The audacity of the first and second slave to double their money.  If he was indeed a harsh Master than that was truly audacious.  Clearly the text is talking about an ancient style of money, but in the Middle Ages talents started meaning something else, like Jack’s awesome guitar skills or Derek’s voice or Joanne’s encouragement or Deanne’s teaching.

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?”  There’s that “fear” word again.

2 Timothy 1:6-7, 14, “ For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.  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?  Or do you see your children or grandchildren stuck in that uncertain, stuck place discerning their gifts or callings?  Or are you in your retirement, thinking some of those same thoughts?  Where are the gifts and talents God gave me, leading me?  It’s okay to not have all the answers, just don’t shut the door on an opportunity God may have for you.  To any age group, God can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine if we trust and believe.  You may not have any idea what your actual gifts are.  Have different people encouraged you along the way and pointed out the things that you are good at?  Have they affirmed your talent?  Their collective voices may be God’s way of showing and telling you what your gifts are.  We definitely serve a show and tell God.  God has a way of using multiple mediums to get God’s point across loud and clear.  It may be a still small voice or it may be a resounding gong, but God will make a way.

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 only be faithful and obedient.  Not to be perfect or have it all together and most of us are not called to be famous, to have a million followers on Twitter or have a clothing line.  Good for the people that do.  We get into this comparison cycle where we feel like God is Santa Claus and we’ve got no gift.  Or not the one we want.  It’s always greener in someone’s field.  Don’t compare yourself to others because that only sets you up for dissatisfaction, envy, failure, and not to mention, it’s unhealthy.  Trust me, we are each given our part to play in the body of Christ.

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 light 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.  The website shares, “The Spiritual Gifts Assessment helps individuals identify their God-given gifts for living faithfully as Christian disciples day by day and find meaningful ways to use their gifts in connection with others through the community of faith.”  Everyone has been given gifts, it just may be you’ve never unlocked or activated yours or that you’ve forgotten.

I have loved the movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance” ever since I saw it in 2000.  I watched over and over again after a second brain surgery left me without the ability to speak in 2013.  I remember practicing at the pulpit, a friend helping me, as I struggled that summer and fall. “The Legend of Bagger Vance” is about a war veteran, Captain Rannulph Junah played by Matt Damon, who was a talented golfer before he went to war and some things went down and he now refuses to play the game.  He ends up in this tournament and his caddy, Bagger, played by Will Smith, and Harley the young local boy that is serving as the assistant caddy.  When he first tries to swing his clubs, you can tell he’s getting frustrated and angry because it’s not coming back so easy.  He’s forgotten how to do it, to let it flow. and Bagger says to Harley.  “Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing. Something that we were born with. Something that’s ours and ours alone. Something that can’t be taught to you or learned. Something that got to be remembered. Over time the world can rob us of that swing. It can be buried inside us in the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s.  Some people forget what their swing was like.”

Our arrogance gets us into trouble.  So does when we don’t try our best or we give up.  This clip is when Junah is 12 strokes back, he’s already let the self-defeating prophesy set in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60PQRpo9T-Q

You see when we humble ourselves and listen to God and God’s leading, we’re able to be who God created us to be.  If we rest, in the resting state, in the love of God for each of us we can truly use our gifts for God’s glory.

Some of us have forgotten our authentic swing.  Life happened.  Jobs happened.  Babies happened.  All the things that demand our time happened.  The callous, apathetic, nature of our world happened.  We are numb to the attacks in the world and we’re numb to the terror, heartache, and politics in our own country, some of us thinking that is our only means of survival to remain wrapped up in our apathy so we don’t have to feel the wounds of those around us.  First of all, God doesn’t cause the atrocities in the world.  God grieves and mourns right alongside us.  Second of all, God is a just God and anyone who shoots the innocent is going to answer to God for it.  I cling to and believe whole-heartedly in times like these, as Romans 8 says,  “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

We forget that sometimes.  Sometimes the stuff of the world, our baggage as we’ve spoken of gets in the way.  We get in our own heads too much and overthink things.  That basically boils down to FEAR. This is later in the movie.  Junah’s gotten into his head and he’s experiencing PTSD.  He’s about to give up the tournament….

“Now play the game.  Your game.  The game that only you was meant to play.  The one was given to you when you come into this world.”

God is going to be with you every step of the way.  Even when God doesn’t seem like it, even if you’re hoarse from crying out, God is there.

Naomi Faw writes, “In the dark night of my soul I long for someone’s comfort and no one comes.  There is no one to call.  I imagine Jesus in the Garden praying until sweat became blood and even the disciples would not wake.  This night is my garden.  When will help come?  Where is grace?  Will I be able to take one more step?  The dark night passes and no one came.  Or, perhaps Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.”

Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.  God never leaves us or forsakes us.  Amen?

 

I promise you that if you ask God, seek God with all of your heart, God will answer you.  Seek and ye shall find.  Knock and the door will be opened for you.  The place God leads you is the place you come alive.  It’s where your passions lie and it is where your deepest desires are going to be met, the cry of your heart that you’ve not even dared to speak aloud.  It’s a journey of self-discovery and discovering God’s purpose for your life.  Not just one purpose, it’s a myriad of instances, ways to share small things with great love.  The world will see it.  The world will see people who are truly authentic and it will be shining from our faces.  Our one true authentic swings.  God is faithful and true and the Holy Spirit can guide and lead us in our gifts and graces as the Spirit moves us to claim our gifts.  God doesn’t call us to hoard our gifts or leave them unused because we are afraid.  God gives us these talents to share with the world.

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. We don’t need “our giftedness” to go to our heads.  Sometimes we want to take the credit ourselves.  It’s my talent.  I’ve gotten myself to this point.  I’m brilliant.  I’ve gotten this promotion, house, new job, etc. all on my own.

I’m reminded of Ellie Holcomb’s song “Only Hope I’ve Got.”

I take all the gifts that You have given and I stake my claim like they’re my own,
Will You help me when I forget to remember, the good I’ve got is yours alone.
Oh ’cause I don’t wanna tell some arrogant story
Or let myself believe I’m you!
I don’t wanna be a thief who’s stealing Your glory…
Will You help remind me of what is true? The ONLY hope I’ve got, it’s You.
It’s You.

We need to remember that all good gifts come from above. We need to be humble and not squander the great gifts God has given.  According to Marianne Williamson, “Success means we go to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.”  As Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  I’d like to be your conversation partner in this.  If you get the results of a spiritual gift inventory and you’d like to talk to someone, I’m available.  If you’d like to share with a trusted friend, family member, or small group what you think your gifts are and where you think they’re leading you then do it.  We have to have these times of deep soul work or we grow stale.

Earlier this morning I placed stars under your chairs and I prayed over them for God to help you see what gifts and graces that God has given you.  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 gifts for God, it makes the light brighter, stronger, more full.  Notice I gave you two stars and don’t worry, I won’t give you homework every week.  Part of our calling as Christians is to not just use our gifts for Christ for the world  but to see the gifts of others in the world, the light shining brightly out of them, or dimly as it was for Captain Junah.  I want you to give someone your other star this week as a sign that maybe you see something that they don’t recognize in themselves, or if someone does something kind for you, like carries your groceries, or let’s you get in front of them in line at the gas station, or a mother that you see at Target harried by her children as a sign of encouragement.  God doesn’t just want us to accept and use our gifts, God wants us to shine our lights so that the world knows God’s love and grace and that God has given them gifts as well.

I will close with this poem called “More Than Enough.”

“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.”

Let us pray.

 

We are chosen for something.

Our first scripture is from 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,[a] 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. Precisely 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.” The talents in this story refer to money; the differing abilities of the recipients are referred to in other terms. Isn’t it fascinating that just from this biblical passage that we get the first definition of talent when it means the second one. Strange.

Our second scripture is from 2 Timothy 1:6-14 (NRSV),

6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher,[a] 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

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 posted on my facebook an article from Relevant called “So You Have No Idea What Your ‘Calling’ Is.” Here’s an excerpt from the article. “One of the biggest things was that the millennial generation, their unique challenges notwithstanding, could change the world. The first time I heard this I was inspired, but what started as inspiration began to build into anxiety. Words like “calling” and “vocation” sound great until you realize you don’t know yours. There is just no way around this. Patience and perseverance have to become defining attributes of our journey to find our calling. Sure, there are the people out there who knew they were going to be missionaries from the first time they saw a map (and even they have to wait and prepare), but for the vast majority of us, it takes more time. We have to learn new things, grow up, build community, work at Starbucks, drop out of Grad school or take our first graphic design class before we start to have an idea of what we want to do. 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.”

I’m here to tell you, you CAN and WILL change the world. Don’t be paralyzed by the idea of that. Let that wash over you like a wave washing over you in the ocean. You see the God that knit you together in your mother’s womb and knows when you sit and when you rise is calling you forth to share YOUR gift to the world. Don’t start comparing yourself to others because that only sets you up for dissatisfaction, envy, failure, frustration and it’s unhealthy. We are each given a part to play.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Start at beginning – 3:22

So we’re each given skills and abilities and choices. No one is talentless. Everyone gets their own moment to shine even Neville Longbottom.

The second scripture is 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-11 (NRSV) says, 1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 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. Take a spiritual gift survey. Take one of the many on buzzfeed just for fun and find out what Superhero you are. Or ask someone that you trust: a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, a friend. Ask them.

This quote is from The Legend of Bagger Vance, a favorite of mine. It’s a quote that Bagger, played by Will Smith, tells Harley the young kid that is serving as the assistant caddy.

“Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing. Something that we were born with. Something that’s ours and ours alone. Something that can’t be taught to you or learned. Something that got to be remembered. Over time the world can rob us of that swing. It can be buried inside us in the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s. Some people forget what their swing was like.”

Our true authentic swing. We have to be given eyes to see and know. When those around you are telling you and God’s leading you, you CAN move mountains. God is faithful and true and the Holy Spirit can guide and lead us in our gifts and graces as the Spirit moves us to CLAIM our gifts.

1:19 – 2:14 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60PQRpo9T-Q “Legend of Bagger Vance”

This next clip admittedly is from a kid’s movie, The Rise of the Guardians. It asks the question, “What is your center?” What are the things that make you – YOU? What makes me Narcie? What makes her…? What makes him…?

Rise of the Guardians – “What is your center?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8k8s0JyzJsk

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKroB30l7dk – Rise of the Guardians – Jack’s Center

What makes you – YOU? What is your center? Jack’s center is fun. I would say mischief making, like my 7 year old Enoch. 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. Not to mention getting your head through the door.

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.”

God is going to be with you every step of the way. The great God of the universe is going to be with you every step of the way. Do you realize the power in that? Or are you still in the mire and muck that holds you back? The baggage that weighs you down?

– 2:15 – to the end – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Mk2Tca88Xo “Legend of Bagger Vance”

Even when God doesn’t seem like it, even if you’re hoarse from crying out, God is there.

This expresses the dark night of the soul that Henri Nouwen often writes about. “My Garden of Gethsemane” by Naomi Faw –

“In the dark night of my soul I long for someone’s comfort and no one comes. There is no one to call. I imagine Jesus in the Garden praying until sweat became blood and even the disciples would not wake. This night is my garden. When will help come? Where is grace? Will I be able to take one more step? The dark night passes and no one came. Or, perhaps Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.”

Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.

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. These are familiar words from Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, “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 do small things throughout the day, throughout our lives with great love.

http://vimeo.com/46300983

You were made for a purpose. If it’s clean water. Get educated. More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. If it’s world hunger. Know your facts. Every 5 seconds a child dies from hunger. You can make a difference. You weren’t put here in this particular time, in this particular place, with your God given gifts and graces by mistake. Go, ye, therefore and change the world for Jesus.

Let your light shine. Your stars that you were given 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 gifts for God, 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.

Affirmation and Calling

It’s been an interesting process the past couple of days as our search committee at Winthrop Wesley interviews candidates for the Director/Campus Minister job. I have been thankful to not be directly a part of the process and able to spend time at the end of each candidate’s interview times being able to answer questions and affirm them.

What I’ve found from a lot of them as well as from some of my current and former students is that our church is not always in the practice of affirming our young, capable and qualified leaders if their calling is something other than that of the local church.

As a member of a District Committee on Ministry and as someone who was loved and affirmed in my calling and in this process, I’ve seen some of this from both sides. I felt some of this as someone going through trying to articulate something that didn’t necessarily include a steeple or a pulpit. But, call me crazy, I thought that with all of the research talking about young people going into ministry and with it being over 10 years since I went through our process that things had gotten better. That committees and boards were more open to young people seeing church in sometimes different ways and wanting to live out their calling in ways that doesn’t always fit the life-long career path of previous generations.

I have people tell me all the time that they feel called to campus ministry and want to work with young people but that their committees on ministry or their senior pastor or those giving them counsel on how to get larger appointments with higher paying salaries warn against this because of their career or how they’ll be perceived or pigeon holed asking questions like, “Why would you waste your gifts there?” Yes, I have really heard this.

It feels like we just want to lift up people that look like and talk like us…40 years ago and we want them to follow our exact life map. We’re talking about the Call to Action and vital congregations and I’m all about us having that conversation, but changing our general agencies in no way completely solves the problem of our relevance or our connection with the world. If we ask the same questions that we asked 40 years ago and we expect the same answers, leaving no room for change or growth or a flip the script moment, we’re setting ourselves up for great failure. Not as a Church, not as a body of Christ, not as a movement but as a system – a structure that exists to continue its existence.

In contrast to all of this our amazing intern Erica just got back from her interview process with the General Board of Global Ministries for the Mission Intern program, which would train her to be a missionary 16 months internationally and 16 months domestically. She had an awesome experience. She felt affirmed. She felt heard. She felt like it was actually intentional and discerning and open…and she is bubbling from the experience! Hers is not the most traditional road to ministry, but it is such a rich and wondrous thing to witness. It’s exciting. It gives me hope for our church. Hearing about her wanting to share the Good News of Christ makes me excited that the United Methodist Church sends out missionaries all over the world – with all of their quirks, oddities, diversity, and high caliber!

I want to be able to encourage young people into ministry – whether ordained or in great UMVIM or GBHEM or World Race or whatever opportunities. I want to know that yes, they are questioned and people help them discern and give them counsel, but I also want them to be affirmed that God has called them to serve God’s kingdom – not in a particular venue or in specific cookie cutter ways. Not hating on the cookie cutters because I love them and I am related to them, but we’ve got to lift up our young people and listen to them and hear their hopes, dreams, and passion. We’ve got to see and believe, not just say that all of these ministries are not just valid but just as “important” as the other. And this can’t just happen in our campus ministries. Our students can’t just be affirmed here, in the safety of our communities. The larger church has to be willing to affirm this calling as well and there has to be room made at the table.

I’m sitting here listening to Erica tell two of our students about her experience and what she could possibly do and it’s so contagious that we all need to hear it. We all need to hear this joy and passion. We all need to have a chance to sit down with a group of young people and listen to how they see the world and how they view the church.

So a huge thank you to all of those who have affirmed some of us crazy folks that love the local church – absolutely love it – but are called to serve in a variety of ways. A huge thank you to those that see quality, solid people and don’t say things like – you don’t want to serve there, you want to be able to move up our system, why would you waste your gifts with such a transient and changing group. A huge thank you to those that support these crazy ministries that we do and who believe in the work that we are doing. A huge thank you to our advocates who have stepped into the gaps, who have tried to translate for us, and who have journeyed with us.

May each of us experience times of affirmation and calling, as well as time of challenging and questioning. AND may we as a church realize that some of our larger struggles are not just structural, but so much more. Help us Lord to not just break glass ceilings in our particular ministries but may the greater church realize the gifts, graces, and beautiful ministry that is happening throughout our connection as we seek the already and not yet of your kingdom.

What’s Your Story?

I have no idea who said this but I know I didn’t make it up myself.  Someone told me once that we all have a sermon and each Sunday we just preach it a lot of different ways.  I’ve thought about this for awhile, and I have found this idea intriguing.  In discussion with Josh back and forth over sermons or with Mike back and forth over music, there’s a part of me that does believe that each of us is given this essence, this thing within us that’s just trying to get out and that’s our story.  It’s our thing to share with the world.  All of us are different.  And that’s what makes it beautiful.  We’re not competing over who has the best one or who has the loudest or most compelling, but we each have one to share.  Each of us.

I think for me it’s this incarnational theology thing.  I don’t even want to know how many sermons I talk about Emmanuel – God with us, that the Great God of the universe decided to come and be one of us, that God is with us in the midst.  I know I must say in the midst all the time.  I don’t know why this gels with me so much, but even if I’m not preaching about it – let’s say I’m talking about human trafficking or Ruth or the early church in Acts – whatever it is, somehow I end up back with this same uncontrollable and thirsty desire to talk to people about this Savior that wants to know them.  Not in an arrogant, aren’t we humans so cool, kind of way, but in a I want to know you and I created you and I have this awesome and amazing journey for you to go on.  Not saying that those are always easy stories – because there’s a lot of hurt and evil and junk out there, but a God that goes with us and that gets down in the mud and muck with us – that’s a God I can follow.

I could go down a list of what I think people’s sermons/songs/stories are.  Is that weird?  But can you think about it?  The people around you – what is their thing?  What is their essence?  What is that thing that they point to?

Let me put in a musical perspective.  I am not a musician.  I am married to one and I love him and he says I don’t count anymore as a non-musician because I’ve heard him talk so much about it.  Maybe that’s true.  But I love music.  Y’all know I love music.  My mind thinks in songs which is why I should give money to youtube because I use their videos so much.  So back to music – I digress – there’s this guy Stephen Oremus – arranger, orchestrator, musical director.  Randomly in July 2005 Mike and I won tickets to Wicked, the musical on Broadway.  (I know, I know, I can’t shut up about Broadway, but I like it.  I really, really like it.)  There’s was a guy conducting or whatever you would call that and he had the best time.  He was laughing and smiling and enjoying it in an amazing way.  Then here we are this past May and we won tickets to the Book of Mormon Musical and here’s this conductor smiling and so enthusiastic and really loving it and lo and behold – same guy.  Stephen Oremus.

Now the guy doesn’t even have a wikipedia page, and I’m tempted to write it myself because I really enjoy what he does.  He arranged the music for Avenue Q and Wicked and 9 to 5 and High Fidelity and All Shook Up and the Book of Mormon and as someone who at least loves and owns the soundtrack to three of those, I can hear similarities and musical themes that are common throughout and it’s so cool.  It’s just good music and arrangement.  As Mike and I were talking about this he talks about how sometimes musicians don’t want to have those themes throughout – you know just like in Project Runway when the girl had all the clothes with petals – you don’t want to be stuck on the one note.  But then he changed his mind and said, maybe that’s this guy’s thing.  Maybe that’s his gift, his essence – his thing to give.

I don’t know.  Call me crazy.  But I feel like all of us have that “thing” within us that’s waiting to burst out.  That gift whether it be the timid girl who then starts belting out the notes in Sister Act or even the first time Billy Graham stepped behind a pulpit or the first time you do that thing that just makes you feel beyond any word like happy, but alive or content or at purpose.

What’s that thing you want to share with the whole world?  What is it that you think they just have to know?  How do you share it in your own unique, God-given way?

I get the fear and the doubt and the times you may not feel it and the times when you’re frustrated or annoyed or just plain old pooped.  But what’s the story of your life?

Is my story – tired, frantic mother?  Is my story – I’ll be glad to talk to you when I’m fully rested and in a good mood and with the right amount of caffeine?  Is my story…

If you could tell someone in three sentences or less your greatest purpose or piece of advice or rule to live by or other cliched phrase.  If you could share the very essence of who God created you to be with someone, what would that look like?  Words?  A picture?  A song?  A hug?  A sweater?

Think about it.  What’s your thing to share?  Your gift to give?  What’s your story?  And how is it part of the greater story around us?  How are we sharing it with the world?

 

I love this song.  I actually love Michael W. Smith’s entire Trilogy on the I’ll Lead You Home album.  I know, I know – old school Christian music.  Don’t ask me how something titled Angels Unaware fits with this, but somehow I think we live our stories.  We live who we are in the good, the bad, and the ugly.  On the great days and on the dark days.  Whether there are angels unaware or whether we’re right there in the presence of God – we’ve been created and life breathed into us and a story placed in our hearts and on our lives.  We don’t always have to have it figured out or feel like we’re good enough, but God is faithful to us and we can trust God’s grace and mercy and never-ending love is available to each of us.

I honestly think of this song every time I say, what’s your story?  Matthew West says it well in the Next Thing You Know.

So what’s your story about God’s glory?  How are you letting your life speak to the world?

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.

What do people see?

Do you ever wonder what people think when they see you?  I’m not completely just talking about visual judgments here, but the whole shebang.  It’s just funny to me to think about how we are each perceived and how close to the mark that is.

One of the students and I walked over to the campus Starbucks earlier today to talk about seminary and candidacy and all that is wonderful and crazy about heading into ministry in the United Methodist Church.  It was a fun conversation and I’m excited about his journey.  What was funny to me is that one of the folks we met along the way, that I know pretty well, didn’t even speak to me or seem to recognize me.  Now, I must say, that since there’s no meetings today and I’m not anticipating having to look too terribly nice, I’m in jeans and a short sleeved shirt with no make up.  You could call this one of my uniforms.  What is hilarious is that when I’m dressed nicely with my make up on, I’m recognized immediately, but in my “natural” state, not so much. Now there are pros and cons about being recognized and pros and cons about blending in.  I just think it’s funny to think about.

I mentioned this to some of the students at lunch and one very nicely and graciously and probably a little untruthfully, said – “What?  You look exactly the same.”  God bless the young.  We were having some conversation about the upcoming school year and getting ready for Welcome Week and the first few weeks of classes and how we need to plan and prepare and get rocking this summer so that we show the very best of Winthrop Wesley those first few weeks. In other words, we’re going to put on our nice clothes and make up and rock this thing.  Or as my Ganny would say, we’re going to put our “face” on.  Thinking about it – it’s the truth.  When do I clean up and make sure everything looks nice – when someone’s coming over, when there’s a board meeting, at the beginning of the school year.  When do we put out fresh pine straw and make sure the outside of the building looks good – Orientations and the beginning of the school year.  When do I actually consider wearing a suit or ironing that dress – Annual Conference, a district meeting, or some other professional gathering. When do our congregations particular dress up – Easter, Christmas, graduation, the big days. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with celebrating or dressing up for dinner or actually using the fine china every now and then.  (Come to think of it – we have NEVER used ours and that is a sad, sad thing.  Maybe we should plan a big dinner sometime soon or at least use the stuff.  I don’t know why we even registered for those tea cups.  My Lord.)  Reality is that I think sometimes we need those occasions or deadlines to get geared up and do something.  Although I know that I need to exercise more and stop eating all of these delicious cookies from Lell’s, I also keep thinking to myself – I’ll start tomorrow or maybe one day when I get a bike and ride it to work or maybe before bathing suit season.  And yet, we’re at bathing suit season and I’m thinking, I don’t really have to wear a bathing suit, right?  Or maybe I can scratch the bikini this year and actually go for the “Mom” suit.  (You know the kind I’m talking about, don’t even try to deny it.)  Sometimes without an imminent deadline, we languish where we are and don’t make the extra effort to get our “stuff” together. So as much as I in some ways don’t like being recognized and it’s nice not to be “seen” all the time, it’s also a good reminder that we’ve got to keep it moving and keep it flowing not just on the high traffic, big deal, main event kind of times, but maybe at least a trickle of keeping it hospitable, welcoming, genuine and open all the time.  You never know whose going to walk into your congregation at what time or who you’re going to welcome to your door.  You don’t know if today’s going to be the day at Starbucks that you meet someone that is going to rock your socks off and be that missing piece to some ministry idea or ministry team or whatever for your congregation.  I’m not saying we’re not authentic – and I’m certainly not saying that I’m going to suddenly dress up for Wesley each day, but I am saying that we’ve got to be aware of what the world sees.  We’ve got to be aware of how we’re perceived.  We’ve got to be aware of the image that we create.

While at lunch there were three professors in the restaurant with us and one of them who comes to our Faculty-Staff lunches looked over and smiled and waved as the students and I were discussing Nicaragua and the upcoming school year.  That’s what I want these folks to see – students engaged and excited and brainstorming – not just about their schoolwork or their majors but also about their vocational journeys, their worlds – all the fun and mess and real life.  We want the world to see all of who we are – not just the Sunday morning shiny with the great hair, outfit, and full face, but also the struggles, the tears, the frustrations and everything in between. So the challenge – put our best foot forward – true – but be real.  What is your image of yourself?  What do you think the world sees?  What do you think God sees?  How are we called to be in the world?  Do we need a big fancy event to throw on some nice clothes or use the good china?  Who or what has helped to define how you see yourself?

“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”  – Parker Palmer

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm. 1 You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.