Exhausted, but Hopeful

One of the students this morning said I looked exhausted and asked if I was okay.  I thought I was covering it up by not wearing a t-shirt and yoga pants, by wearing real adult clothes – slacks, a cardigan, a statement necklace.  Apparently, it didn’t work. Yesterday was Senior Sunday and also a celebration for Ryan and I.  It was perfect.  I read the scrapbook the students and staff made me yesterday afternoon.  My eyes were red and puffy from happy tears and memories.  I announced yesterday evening where we’ll be going.  We are excited to let the world know, I was appointed to Point Hope UMC in Mt. Pleasant.  Since HOPE is such a large part of my story, I was thrilled it had it in the name!  We are thrilled to be in ministry with the people there.  We’ll be living and the kids will go to school in the same neighborhood the church is in.  Fingers crossed about the house.  I awoke this morning to several things we had to get together for our loan documents.  After I got those together, I turned on my iTunes and this song by Chris Rice came on.  Stirring my soul to holiness.

I hear a sound and turn to see
A new direction on that rusty weather vane
Suddenly the dead brown leaves are stirred
To scratch their circle dances down the lane

And now the sturdy oaks start clappin
With the last few stubborn leaves that wont let go
I can hear Old Glory snappin
And her tattered rope now clangin against the pole

And my breath is snatched away
And a chill runs up my spine
Feels like somethins on the way
So I look up to the sky, I look up to the sky

And from the corners of creation
Comes the Fathers holy breath
Ridin on a storm with tender fierceness
Stirring my soul to holiness, stirring my soul to holiness

I see the lifeless dust now resurrected
Swirling up against my window pane
And carried cross the distance
Come the long awaited fragrances of earth and rain

And out across the amber field
The slender grasses bend and bow and kiss the ground
And in them I see the beauty of the souls
Who let the spirit lay them down

And it takes my breath away
And a tear comes to my eye
Feels like somethins on the way
So I look up to the sky, I look up to the sky

And from the corners of creation
Comes the Fathers holy breath
Ridin on a storm with tender fierceness
Stirring my soul to holiness, stirring my soul to ho-holiness

And like a mighty wind blows with a force I cannot see
I will open wide my wings, I will open wide my wings
I will open wide my wings and let the spirit carry me, yeah, yeah

From the corners of creation
Comes the Fathers holy breath
Ridin on a storm with tender fierceness
Stirring my soul to holiness, stirring my soul to holiness
Stirring my soul to ho-holiness

I hear a sound and turn to see
A new direction on that rusty weather vane

Psalm 96

O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.

For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.

Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.

Say among the nations, “The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy

before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

Amen.  Let it be that God stirs all of our souls to holiness and may we see God’s tangible reminders that we REST in HOPE.

Psalm 23 Sermon

I picked two scriptures from the lectionary today, we will explore one first and then the next.  The first one is Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

It was one of the scriptures my mother made us memorize when we were little and it is a familiar refrain in the Bible.  Ryan talked about it last week, we, as sheep, tuning in to Jesus, our good shepherds, voice, tuning into our Master and Lord’s voice.  In this particular passage, “He restores my soul,” is actually a statement of conclusion. In other words, green pastures and still waters are the way God restores our souls. And if we stop long enough to let God speak to us, we’ll discover that our souls need restoring.  Especially at the end of the semester with the last three of days of class.

“He restores my soul” literally means He causes my life to return. The word restore means replenish, to return to its original state. Restoring my soul means God keeps me going and gives the enjoyment of life back to me. Notice it’s not some general or physical restoration—“He restores my soul.”  I would always get sick at the end of the semester, whether it was over Christmas break or if it were May.  My mom would say that I was running on adrenaline all during the semester, and if I didn’t take little moments to recharge then I would eventually burn out.

Those who really know God, also know God “makes” us lie down sometimes. We’re not smart enough or willing enough to do many things for our own good. But our Shepherd will do what the Shepherd needs to do to get us where we need to be—in green pastures—so God can restore our souls.

Soul is a very important word in the Bible. The Hebrew term nephesh can be translated soul, life, heart, or mind. Nephesh is the word used in Genesis 2:7 to describe what happened when God breathed into the clay figure He had made: “The man became a living creature [or soul].” Soul refers to the immaterial part of you that will survive beyond this life. The central thing that is most you about you is your soul. Your soul relates and responds to God.

So, if God continually “restores my soul,” how does God do it? First, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” In Hebrew, “green pastures” literally means the tender grass. In sheep terms, it’s rich, lush feeding places from which the flock need never move to be satisfied. What do we do to get fed?  What do we do to get our God fix?

Psalm 63 verses 1-4 talks about it this way, “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  Because your steadfast love is better than life my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.”

“He leads me beside still waters.” God says, What are you doing over there? C’mon over here. This is where the water is quiet. This is where you can be refreshed. My living water is deep and plentiful. And it restores your soul. Sheep are scared by troubled waters, and so are we. God provides the still waters of God’s thirst-quenching presence. God can satisfy your deepest longings every time we turn to God.

A bit of poetry from Wisdom Path by Jan Richardson,

God of the waters,

help me to know

that there will be wilderness,

but the wilderness

will turn to green land;

that there will be desert,

but in the desert a spring;

that in the heart

of the rock

of my life

will begin to flow

a river

washing through the chasm of my soul;

and that I will walk

wet with memory

when again I touch

dry land.

Don’t you love that imagery.  Through the chasm of my soul…  I have the memory ot water even when I’m on dry land.  In the original text, notice the word beside. This isn’t some down-to-the-river-and-out-again experience. Beside the still waters is where you can live your life. It isn’t a monthly or a weekly thing; it’s a daily, continuous replenishing. The psalmist of Psalm 121  wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  You’re walking with Christ beside still waters, walking in his ways, letting him lead and guide you as the good Shepherd he is. You’re alone with God, not thinking about the time. It’s quiet . . . and God’s restoring you.  God actively seeks to restore your soul.

After my grandfather died, my gandaddy because I was the first grandchild and I couldn’t say my r’s when I was little, we gathered in his hospital room, all of his extended family.  He had a heart attack and because it was so sudden we were all in shock.  He was one of six boys and they were all farmers at one time or another.  He went to Clemson when it was a military college and he was stationed at White Plains in El Paso where they were doing nuclear testing.  He was a long-time educator in Williamsburg County, one of the counties off of the I-95 corridor, first as a math teacher and then as a principal.  He loved Clint Eastwood movies and he challenged me to not use empty words like “cool.”  He was our rock.  Our constant.  He lived #blacklivesmatter before it became a thing to stand for.   For that matter, he stood for #alllivesmatter.  And when we all crowded in the hospital room, we all joined together in saying Psalm 23.  I’m so glad my mother made us memorize it as children.  It comes in handy.  When I don’t know what to pray.  When I don’t know what end is up.  When I just need some Jesus in my life.  I pray it.  I encourage each of you to write it on your hearts because when the rubber hits the road, it will come back to you.  Lyrics to a song…Scripture passages you’ve memorized…the Holy Spirit will give you a nudge or a loud clanging cymbal about where you should go and who you are.  Not only that, but whose you are.

Our other lectionary text for today is from Revelation 7:15-17 talking about those who come out of the great ordeal.

15 For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Tune in to the Shepherd’s voice even when things seem insurmountable and the entire deck is stacked against you.  Even when you barely hear the Shepherd’s voice, even when the shepherd’s voice is silent.  Keep reading scripture, keep listening, keep doing all you can to connect to the Source of life – God.  My prayer for all of you and for me is that God will give us the courage and strength to stand firm in the midst of every adversity, that Christ be our shelter and shield and he wield his sword of truth, and that the Holy Spirit blow over this place igniting anew and afresh our hopes, our dreams, our deepest longings.

You have below your seat a button and a card.  The buttons say things like “Praise God,” “You are Loved,” “Joy,” “Be You,” “Shine Your Light,” and “Be Love.”  I encourage you to “Be Love” because you are precious and Beloved.  The card is a great quote of Frederick Buechner, “Here is the world.  Beautiful and terrible things happen.  Don’t be afraid.”  The Bible, nor Jesus, nor I – don’t promise the road is going to be easy, but God promises to always restore your soul and Jesus promises to never leave you nor forsake you.

This benediction was used at Old St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore, Maryland in 1692.  It still rings true today.  “Go placidly among the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.  As far as possible without surrender be on good terms will all persons.  Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant, they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.  If you compare yourself with others, you will become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.  Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.  Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.  Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.  But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism

Be yourself.  Especially do not feign affection.  Neither, be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as grass.  Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.  Nurture strength of the spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.  But do not distress yourself with imaginings.  Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.  Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gently with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the tress and the stars; you have a right to be here.  And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Therefore, be at peace with God for he is greater than we can ever comprehend.  Whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.  With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.  Be careful.  Strive to be happy.”

Choose joy.  Be joy.  Choose love.  Be love.  Choose hope.  Be hope.  Amen.

IMG_4838 (2)

*The classic Dr. Seuss book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” will be read for the graduating seniors.

God Creates YOU – You’re Dust

College

Okay, I confess, I sort of copped out. This sermon is not going to be about sex and dating. I know, I know. But I have a plan that doesn’t put the cart before the horse, so to speak. We will start this Sunday with God creating us and lifting up the theme of Ash Wednesday because it falls on Spring Break. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” March 9th will be all about healthy communication in community and practical advice for dealing with conflict. God wants us to live life in community. March 16th will be all about guarding your heart, no matter if you’re a single person or a dating person or you’re on your way to being a married person. We’ll wrap up with, “God wants you to have a great sex life” because God does want you to have a great sex life. We give mixed messages as a church universal about sex so we’ll delve into those. What do I mean by that? Well, you’ll have to come on March 23rd to hear it in person or listen at gatorwesley.com or read it on my blog. And then we’ll go into our Lenten series as we make our way towards the cross and Easter. Sound good?

So now that you know where we’re going, hear now the word of God:

Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24
1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end[a]—I am still with you.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked[c] way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.[d]

Isaiah 64:8
8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

Jeremiah 18:1-4
18 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

8th grade sucked. My dad was a United Methodist pastor so we moved the summer before my eighth grade year. The exact wrong time to move if you’re a 5 foot 11 ½ girl and none of the guys at your school had hit their growth spurt yet. You see, I grew to this height in seventh grade. We had been in the Hartsville schools for 7 years so they were used to me being tall and I felt at home and self-confident there. When we moved to Cheraw I was fresh meat. My nicknames abounded that year: giraffe, Olive Oil, stick…. A teacher at the time, used me as an example in geography class, telling the entire class to remember the country of Sri Lanka, by me, because I was so lanky. Now, I’ve never been to Sri Lanka, but I can’t believe she said that. I didn’t like Cheraw very much at the time and my eighth grade self remembers being oh so dramatic and yelling at the top of my lungs to my parents, “I hate this town and everyone in it!” and running up the stairs to my room and slamming the door. I wanted to go “home” to Hartsville where I knew people and they knew me. I remember relying on the spiritual strength of my mom a lot that year.I later read the book Reviving Ophelia for my Teacher Cadet class my senior year of high school and my behavior makes perfect sense as the transition between girl and young woman. I now appreciate with fondness, love and treasured memories, the four years that I spent in Cheraw, SC “The Prettiest Town in Dixie.”

What came out of this, is an understanding that we’re all uniquely created and wired. God created YOU. God created ME. God even claims the dramatic eighth grade me that thought everyone didn’t like her, that she was skinny and awkward and lanky, and I still can recall as if it were yesterday the hurtful and negative things people said about me that year. Why do we remember only the negative things years later, but we forget the praises in a heartbeat? Why do we carry around our wounds? Because that’s what they are: wounds.

My mom continues to give me insight on me. I don’t remember if we had ever had those conversations before that year, but she has continued to give me wisdom since then. She said since I was three years old, I’ve always taken things personally. She said I came home from preschool every day for a month saying nobody liked me. Do you remember that song, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll go eat worms?” I picture little 3 year old me, singing that song, but I digress. When she visited the preschool for the open house and asked the teacher about it, the teacher looked surprised and said everybody likes Narcie, but (blank name), the class bully, doesn’t like her because Narcie stands up to her. That’s the thing. I’ve been wired to be a people pleaser. If someone is mad at me or upset with me, I fester on that, all of my thoughts continually drift back to that, and it becomes like an obsession. Now, I have grown over the years. I don’t take people’s criticism that personally anymore. Well, scratch that, maybe I do. But was that nature or nurture? Was I born that way (nature)? Or was it put upon me by birth order or family system or gender bias? I don’t know. I’m still reasoning that one out. But I’ve also been wired to speak truth to power. I honestly try to not give my opinion, but I HAVE TO speak out. It doesn’t matter whether I sit on my hands or figuratively tape my mouth shut, if I feel like something’s not right….I can’t help but speak up. For a man this may come across as one way, but because I am female, I’m seen as bossy or worse. And I fully claim to be bossy! There’s no denying that. But is it nature or nurture? Was I wired that way?

Speaking of gender bias, John Eldredge in his book Wild at Heart and in the book he and his wife wrote together Captivating say that men and women were created differently. We used to have a Battle of the Sexes board game based on the popular book in the 90’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (and I realize that most of you were born in the 90’s) and the gender bias’ showed in the questions. Check your parents’ shelves for this book over the break. The game makes the assumption, that women don’t know anything about sports or power tools or camping or cars and the game portrayed the women’s cards all about fashion, make up, and other girly stuff. Now, I agree with some of Captivating and Wild at Heart, the essence of them both but I disagree with them both at times too. This is what Wikipedia had to say that sums up Wild at Heart, “”If Christian men are going to change from a pitiful, wimpy bunch of “really nice guys” to men who are made in the image of God, they must reexamine their preconceptions about who God is and recover their true “wild” hearts, writes bestselling author John Eldredge in Wild at Heart: Discovering a Life of Passion, Freedom, and Adventure. Eldredge claims that men are bored; they fear risk, they refuse to pay attention to their deepest desires. He challenges Christian men to return to what he characterizes as authentic masculinity without resorting to a “macho man” mentality. Men often seek validation in venues such as work, or in the conquest of women, Eldredge observes. He urges men to take time out and come to grips with the “secret longings” of their hearts.”

Wikipedia says about Captivating, “It proposes that women have three core desires: “to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty”(Eldredge 8). It also proposes that God made woman as the “Crown of Creation”, an embodiment of God’s beauty, mystery and vulnerability. The book rejects the idea of an ideal woman and explores biblical scripture from the view that God desires woman to embrace her glory, rather than fear her femininity. Captivating is a companion to Wild at Heart, also by John Eldredge, and argues that its model of femininity complements men’s innate desires for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”

See what I mean? It’s worth it to go through the books in small groups, like the guy’s group did last semester reading Wild at Heart together because it definitely gives you a lot of material to discuss.

My children, Enoch and Evy, are 6 and 5. I can tell you that Enoch is all Enoch and Evy is all Evy. What do I mean by that? Enoch’s first name is Daniel, but Enoch’s his name. A Daniel wouldn’t fit him. Enoch is a bundle of energy. You more often than not will see him in motion, running around Gator Wesley. He believes like Ricky Bobby that if you’re not first, you’re last. So with competitive things he is frustrated when he’s not number one. He has a sensitive heart. But strong. My mom said when he was a year old that he would either be a spy/CIA operative or a thief because he could get into anything and figure out a way to open it. Enoch called me on Friday. Although Mike had has phone locked and he has the new iPhone with all of the security measures. Enoch was able to break into it. So I answered the call expecting Mike’s voice and heard Enoch giggling with Evy right beside him. Mike said later it was the second time had broken into his phone over the past two weeks.

Evangeline Grace Jeter is Evy because that name fits her. We decided to name her that because we were obsessed at the time with the tv show LOST and I always liked the actor that played Kate who is Evangeline Lily. So there you have it. We decided to call her Evy Grace because she was born on the first Sunday of Advent. Evangeline means good news. Evy is a girly girl mixed with a tomboy. Girls in her preschool class typically flock to Ms. Davies, who loves Cinderalla, or Ms. Cardoza who’s incredibly outdoorsy and was a basketball player. Ms. Cardoza told Mike that Evy is somewhere in between. Evy is extremely sensitive. I mean she fake cries all the time because she knows she’s adorable, but I know the difference in her trying to get something and wounding. Anytime, Mike or I, say we’re disappointed in her, which isn’t that often, she immediately bursts into tears.

I can tell you that with both Enoch’s essence and Evy’s essence, they entered the world that way leading me to believe that Enoch’s strength, tenacity, and smarts comes naturally to him and Evy’s zest for life, sensitivity, and empathy makes her who she is.

The point is, we are ALL uniquely created to be US, but we’ve all been wounded at one time or another, and some of those wounds are deep. It reminds me of the Jonny Diaz song More Beautiful You:

Little girl fourteen flipping through a magazine
Says she wants to look that way
But her hair isn’t straight her body isn’t fake
And she’s always felt overweight

Well little girl fourteen I wish that you could see
That beauty is within your heart
And you were made with such care your skin your body and your hair
Are perfect just the way they are

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

Little girl twenty-one the things that you’ve already done
Anything to get ahead
And you say you’ve got a man but he’s got another plan
Only wants what you will do instead

Well little girl twenty-one you never thought that this would come
You starve yourself to play the part
But I can promise you there’s a man whose love is true
And he’ll treat you like the jewel you are

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

So turn around you’re not too far
To back away be who you are
To change your path go another way
It’s not too late you can be saved
If you feel depressed with past regrets
The shameful nights hope to forget
Can disappear they can all be washed away
By the one who’s strong can right your wrongs
Can rid your fears dry all your tears
And change the way you look at this big world
He will take your dark distorted view
And with His light He will show you truth
And again you’ll see through the eyes of a little girl

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

There can never be a more beautiful, handsome, smart, strong YOU. The words remind me of what Aibileen Clark says in The Help to Mae Mobley, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” If we praise girls for only their looks and say they’re beautiful or adorable or cute, but then we praise boys for their athletic prowess, what are we doing? What are we saying? As a society, what are we prioritizing? We need to shed our parent’s expectations, our teacher’s expectations, society’s expectations, our own expectation’s, anything that holds us back from embracing our selves fully in the grace of God.

I’m not going to ask you to write anything down, but I invite you to pray in your seat as I play the song that the dance team danced to earlier. Come up to the prayer candles and light a candle signifying a decision to appreciate yourself, love yourself more. Because we cannot love our neighbors with agape love until we first love ourselves with agape love. Hear me now saying that, We cannot love our neighbor with agape love until we first love ourselves with agape love. Mark 12:30-31 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The first step is to love God. The second step is to love your self. And the third step is to love your neighbor. So whatever your burdens are…Whatever separates you from feeling the love of God…ask God to reveal it to you…whatever baggage you carry with you…

Stop at 5:08

“Suitcases” Lyrics by Dara Maclean

How can you move when they’re weighing you down
What can you do when you’re tied to the ground, yeah
You carry your burdens, heavy like gravity
Just let them go now, there’s freedom in release

You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases
It’s a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart
Lay down your guard, you don’t have to be afraid

Just breathe, your load can be lifted
There’s a better way when you know you’re forgiven
Open up your heart, lay down your guard
You don’t have to be afraid

Can you imagine what it’s like to be free
Well, send those bags packing, they’re not what you need
Abandon your troubles by the side of the street
Just let them go now, believe me

You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases
It’s a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart
Lay down your guard, you don’t have to be afraid

Just breathe, your load can be lifted
There’s a better way when you know you’re forgiven
Open up your heart, lay down your guard
You don’t have to be afraid

There’s nothing hold you back now, just run

You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases
It’s a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart
Lay down your guard, you don’t have to be afraid

Just breathe, your load can be lifted
There’s a better way when you know you’re forgiven
Open up your heart, lay down your guard
You don’t have to be
You don’t have to be afraid.

Jesus Can Use YOU to do Great Things

Preached at talk 3 of 3 at the Greater Things Conference for students in L’viv, Ukraine.

Greater Things picture

Mark 2:1-12
Jesus Heals a Paralytic

2 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

They were determined to get their friend access to Jesus. To have such strong determination or perseverance you’ve got to have something within you or around you that spurs you on. For some, it’s the dream, their heart’s desire, for others it’s the support of family and friends cheering at home, for others it’s the memory of someone or an important event that keeps them going, and for others it’s their faith – faith in themselves and in their own community.

This morning we’re going to look at people who went the extra mile or went the distance to help a friend. The thing that spurred them on and gave them the strength to keep going, was their faith. Faith in God. Faith in the healing power of Jesus.

Remember the leper? In Mark chapter 1, verses 40 – 45. “40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling* he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ 42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ 45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.”

The leper proclaimed his healing freely and spread the word. It reminds me of Acts 4:20 that says, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” His life was changed, and he could not suppress the Good News inside of him. The Good News that Jesus had seen him and healed him.

So, thanks to the proclamation of the former Leper, Jesus had a full house when he got home. Another section only in Mark, “So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.”

So where is this located in Jesus’ ministry? It’s still pretty early. He’s been preaching for about a year. Luke 4 tells us that when Jesus went back to Nazareth, after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, he was so thoroughly rejected by the people that he grew up with, so he left Nazareth and made Capernaum, which was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, his home base for the three years of his public ministry.

Okay, so now we know where he was and how he got there, and we also know why the word had spread. This home was so crowded that it was standing-room-only. People in the United States for the most part are avid movie watchers. So when I was a teenager the nearest movie theater was an hour away by car, so we would pile in to my mother’s mini-van, squeezing in every person we could. The most people we got in at one time is 14 by folding down the backseat and fitting 8 people on it and the most it would legally hold is 7. It was ridiculous, but we wanted to get every person we possibly could in there. And that was for a movie. Not for getting a chance to hear Jesus speak the word. Needless to say, the place was packed.

The people were, whether they knew it or not, there to worship God and hear God, in the person of Jesus, “speak the word.” Maybe they were curious about the crowd or what all the fuss was about. Maybe they had heard about his healing of the leper and they wanted to see this Jesus, this healer. Maybe they didn’t quite understand how they had gotten there – whether with a friend or a neighbor or just randomly walking over.

While the crowd struggled to get closer to Jesus, these four men came bringing a paralyzed man on a stretcher. A friend recently visited what was then Capernaum, in his group included a couple of people in wheelchairs and he noticed that even today, Capernaum is not an easy place in which to maneuver if you are disabled. The roads are not paved smoothly, stairs and vertical rises make it difficult to get around, and you really have to rely on your friends to help you travel there if you can’t walk.

If you had been in their place, what would you have done if you had arrived at the house and seen all those people crowded and overflowing out into the street? You might think – hey we must be in the right place – what a great thing is going on here. Or would you sit back and wait for the crowd to leave? Would you think – let’s just go home. We’ll never get in. We’ll try again the next time he’s in town.

If they had quit at this point, they would have a really good reason for going home. But these guys were determined. They had heard that a healer was in town and they want to bring their friend healing. They were on a mission. They had to see Jesus.

Who do you say that I am?

These men believed that Jesus was the Great Healer, God come to earth, the Son of Man.

Matthew 11:4-5 “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

This was a bold move of faith.

These four men weren’t thinking of themselves. They did not need a miracle for themselves, but they had a friend who did. They went to a whole lot of trouble to get him the help that he needed. Because he was important to them and they cared about him.

Thoughts on friendship:

• A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.

• Everyone hears what you say. Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you don’t say.

• A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.

A friend perseveres.

This wasn’t an easy task. It’s not like they thought – oh, cool a crowd – let’s jump up on the roof, lower him through and call it a day. In Palestine, the roofs were flat. They would be used for rest and quiet, for drying clothes and storing things. In 1 Kings 17, we read about Elijah living on the roof. In Acts 10, Peter is up on the roof praying. So generally there were stairs going up along an outside wall. Although they were determined, and possibly had outside stairs, they weren’t supermen. This wasn’t easy.

They actually had to tear up the roof to let him down. I never noticed that or remembered that before from this passage, and part of that is because in the accounts of this story in Matthew and Luke, they don’t say that they had to dig through the roof. To me, though, there’s something really powerful and special about them having to actually dig through and get dirty to help make this miracle happen.

According to some scholars, the roof was usually made of beams about 3 feet apart. These beams would be filled with twigs, then packed with clay and covered with dirt. So as you can probably imagine, as these four are pulling away chunks of clay, bits of dirt, and dried leaves are falling all over those below.

And the people who stood in the room, who most likely had some small rubble or debris dropped on their heads were no doubt probably a little upset. The men had to know this when they concocted their plan. They risked a lot because they had faith in who Jesus is and what a tremendous impact he could have on the life of their friend.

I wonder what Jesus was doing during this creation of a skylight in his home? Does he stop speaking the word or does he just continue going just like a preacher does when there’s many distractions during church? Does he stop and watch maybe with an amused look on his face, or does he began to shake his head and chuckle to himself at the enthusiasm or boldness of these guys?

How would you feel if you were one of the crowd? You’re sitting there during an exhilarating afternoon listening to Jesus, when all of a sudden some crazy guys start tearing open the roof over your head and get you all dirty. You waited and maneuvered a while to get your spot in the house, and here these people are skipping all the steps to get to the front of the line. Or more appropriately, through the roof!

I think sometimes we see the obstacles and how much it will cost us or offend other people, and we go ahead and decide what’s not going to work and who’s not going to respond and what and why something can’t be done. And we’re defeated or making excuses before we even start. Before we even get off the ground. Or get up the steps carrying our friend. We decide that we know best and it totally won’t work.

I’m not saying that God doesn’t want us to use our brains or that we should not reason out the situation first, but I am saying, that sometimes the impossible is made possible. God does work miracles. Bring the dead to life. Give sight to the blind. Heal the leper. So in continuation of that, God calls us to also envision the possibilities to see miracles around our community and world. We’re called to dream and work to make miracles a reality as the hands and feet of God. Just as we did this afternoon, feeding the hungry and helping any way we can in the cause of the revolution. God’s work is done by people who believe in the power of God, who do what they can, relying on God to supply the rest.

The central ingredient is faith, and faith is so important to this story, both as the motivation of these men that empowered their determination and as the starter for Jesus’ healing of the paralytic. Four short words in verse 5, “Jesus saw their faith.” Most people would say, “You can’t ‘see’ faith. Faith isn’t in the physical, visible realm.” But it is. And Jesus saw the faith of these four men. Their faith was evident. It shone through their actions.

These four friends had the faith to believe that Jesus would welcome them and that Jesus could change their friend’s life. What a gamble. They took a bold step of faith to make sure their friend had a chance for healing.

Their friend couldn’t walk – so they carried him.
The crowd blocked their path and access to Jesus – they went around or by passed them.
The roof was in the way – they ripped a hole in it.
They are people on a mission. They were determined. Spiritually and physically they were determined.

Verse 5 says, “when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” They had faith, Jesus saw it, and did the miracle and worked the healing that they had faith would take place.

Do we have that kind of spiritual determination? We all have people we know, friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members who are in need of healing. What are we doing to be present with them in that often lonely and desperate place? Sometimes we need to intercede, whether by prayer, through encouragement, or by our actions.

I wonder, if the salvation of the people around me depended on my faith and my direct actions, how much more seriously and intentionally I would take my time with God and the Christian community and to what extent would I live out my faith?

Sometimes it means doing what one writer calls, “getting your hands dirty in other people’s lives.”

James writes in chapter 2 verses 14 thru 16, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if a person claims to have faith but has no deeds?…Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

God loves us so much that God took extreme measures to provide an opportunity for healing for each one of us. God loves us so much that God came and dwelt among us showing us and providing us with that healing. God loves us so much that God draws us to God’s self, guiding us and leading us.

As the body of Christ today, as I shared last night, we have to use our particular gifts that God has given each of us to show God’s love to the world. Some in the body are particularly gifted to service or prophesy or exhortation or whatever it is that God has called you. In Romans 12:15, Paul wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with them that weep.” In other words, we are to care for one another. To love one another. To truly empathize and connect with the other. This connection means that we move outside of the box of our own concerns and problems and become open and present to the needs of the other, the community around us.

What a tremendous difference it would make if we would just spend a bit of each day looking for someone who has a need. How do we meet these needs? How do we intercede? By both meeting physical needs, like the feeding ministry or sorting the first aid supplies, but also spiritual needs. Our lives truly lived are how the world knows God. Imperfect as we may be, the world needs to know that we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Lawrence Kushner in Honey from the Rock writes, “We understand that ordinary people are messengers of the Most High. They go about their tasks in holy anonymity. Often, even unknown to themselves. Yet, if they had not been there, if they had not said what they said or did what they did, it would not be the way it is now. We would not be the way we are now. Never forget that you too yourself may be a messenger.”

We are all new creations in Christ Jesus and the transformation doesn’t stop there. John Wesley believed in God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. In prevenient grace, God draws us to God’s self even before we know it, in God’s justifying grace, we see that Jesus died for us – for you and me – and that becomes real to us, and in God’s sanctifying grace, God does not leave us as we are. God makes all things new. Once we’re Christians, the work doesn’t end at the point of salvation. It’s only just begun. We are continually striving to be more like Christ, walking in his ways as disciples and sharing the personality of Jesus. You don’t snap your fingers and become perfect or a perfect example of the Christian faith. It’s a continual process, a life-long journey, where you will inevitably stumble and fall. Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. God’s grace extends to all people, you just have to ask for it.

Ann Lamott, who is a former addict and alcoholic, writes, in her book Traveling Mercies, “It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up, I found that life handed you these rusty, bent, old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”

Do the best you can with the gifts God has given YOU and they will be MORE than enough. Wesley encourages, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” May we be lights in the world sharing Christ’s light with everyone we encounter. Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.” Let me repeat that. John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Let us pray…Holy God, may you give us the courage to step out in faith like the four friends did. May you give us to share our lights with all the world. May you reassure us that we don’t have to be perfect to receive your grace. We can do no thing to earn your love and grace. May we feel secure that you’re making all things new and may we feel your love and grace for each of us. May your Holy Spirit rest upon the Ukraine right now and all of us gathered in this place that we would unite with the prayers of all of the world gathered earnestly seeking your presence and your movement. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Martyr of the Holy Innocents

Isaiah 63:7-9

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

God’s Mercy Remembered

I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us,
and the great favor to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will not deal falsely”;
and he became their savior
    in all their distress.
It was no messenger[a] or angel
but his presence that saved them;[b]
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Most pastors avoid this text I’m about to read you like the plague.  It’s even called the Holy Innocents or Martyrs in the Lectionary.  You see, we’re still decorated for Christmas.   Most people don’t know it’s even part of the Christmas story, and Lord knows we wouldn’t want it depicted in any way.  But my friend and colleague the Rev. Paul Shultz, had a way of wading into texts that still made you uncomfortable, still did not give you all the answers and didn’t tie up the loose ends.  He would act like he relished making you uncomfortable, but he let slip one too many times, his care for people.  He died this past week from flu complications.  We texted on New Year’s when he first started coming down with something.  He was only 50 years old and had three kids, 1 grandchild and a fiancé Jana.  I will travel tomorrow morning to represent the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association at the visitation and the funeral because he was my co-chair on UMCMA.  Prayers for his family, students at The University of Iowa Wesley Foundation, and all those that loved him

Hear now the word of God. 

Matthew 2:13-23

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Escape to Egypt

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”14 Then Joseph[a] got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

The Massacre of the Infants

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,[b] he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.[c] 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Egypt

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph[d] got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.

 

So how do you deal with the implications of an angel warning Mary and Joseph to flee with baby Jesus while hundreds of children, 2 years old and younger, were slaughtered?  This is my attempt to not gloss over and fast forward the 3 verses, but to deal with them, realizing that I have my own limited understanding of what it’s like to lose a child.

This is the journal of Divorah, daughter of Amos, of Beyt-Lechem.

Journal Entry 1

I am a young woman today, full of strength and life, and I’ve been blessed by God.  I am from, well, not a wealthy family, but a good one.  I have a good name, something that, among my people, is priceless.  The Lord led me to my love, my husband, Yoseph, and we have had three full years of joy together.  We have good lands that flourish with wheat and barley and honey, and I have praised God daily for it.  God even favored us enough to give us a child, a daughter, whom we’ve named Hannah.  She has been the most precious thing I have ever known.  Every movement, every sound, every new thing she learns or discovers – it has been overwhelming the amount of unconditional love I feel.  Her father and I would commission someone to paint her life, one day at a time, if we could.  That is how this journal came to be.  Yesterday, on Hannah’s first birthday, we bought this book of memories, with as many blank pages as we could afford, to begin to record her life.  And all of that, taken together, is an overflowing cup for any person.

But that was yesterday.  And today let no talk pass my lips of the Lord’s favor.  Let no one speak his name before me.  May no prayer to this “god” pass my lips or those of anyone in my household as long as I live.

Yesterday morning my Hannah turned a year old, and yesterday evening a Roman detachment arrived in town under Herod’s orders.  Yoseph and I could hear the crowds and shouting from here, and in only minutes they had come to our door.  They didn’t ask for the tax, or if we were harboring a fugitive, or if my husband was a member of the latest insurrection.  They demanded, of all things, our little girl.

And I cannot tell you how bitterly I fought them, four armed soldiers.  My husband was clubbed nearly to death, and these men murdered my Hannah.  Yoseph couldn’t protect her.  And no matter how loudly I screamed and scratched and hit, the soldiers just pushed me to the side.  They killed my sweet, precious Hannah and they might as well have killed me as well.   My husband keeps shaking me, asking me if I need anything, anything at all.  Doesn’t he know I can’t bear to go on?  Doesn’t he know that it’s all I can do to record every last thing I can remember in this journal?  For her short and brief life.  What made her smile and giggle……I can’t bear it.

Journal Entry 2

Almost thirty years to the day, I open up these pages again.  I’ll confess that I’ve read and re-read those last words many, many times since that day.  No birthday of my Hannah’s ever passes that I don’t come back here to remember.  On more than one occasion I even thought to record my feelings, to write to her, to tell her things I would’ve told her at 8 or 12 or 20 years old.  But it seemed wrong to change this book.  It seemed like moving on from her.

Nevertheless, I write today because new facts have come to light with regard to the history of Hannah’s life.  My husband and I’ve met again a young man named Yohanan, John, son of Zebediyah the fisherman from the Galilee.  John’s mother is my cousin, and he spent some time here on the farm as a boy.

Anyway, in the city, John had been invited to teach.  I thought it strange for the son of a fisherman, but the local Rabbi seemed to wish to almost interrogate him about the happenings of another wandering Rabbi that John has taken up with, one named Yeshua, or Jesus.  So my husband and I attended, and if I’m honest I was shocked and moved by John’s wisdom, and the “spirit” that was upon him.  We greeted him afterwards and he invited us to lunch and started to open up his heart to us.  And it was he who mentioned Hannah’s name to me.

He explained that this Jesus, whom he takes the foolish risk of calling “lord,” is none other than the Messiah.  And I told him that I’d heard all of that talk before but that I no longer have time for any of God’s Messiahs.  But he went on to say that it was because of this Jesus that the soldiers were sent to our village so many years ago, that it was this Jesus who threatened the evil rule of men like Herod, that it was this Jesus who is God’s great savior.  He spoke of the boy’s birth to a man and wife from Nazareth who had traveled to Bethlehem; he told me about Herod’s schemes and the appearance of angels in visions and dreams to deliver the child and his parents.  He started to describe the kingdom of God coming, and an age where even grief like mine would be no more.

Now that I think of it I can still remember the Roman census that year, and the rumors that were circulating in town at the time – a king was to come from the city of David, after all.  It was only a few months later that I became pregnant with Hannah, so we had taken it all as a good omen!  Our daughter, growing up to see the reign of Israel’s great king!

But that is when I remembered myself.  That is when I remembered the kind of faith that had left my home unguarded on that bloody night.  I remembered the kind of hope that naïve children cling to before they’ve grown up to see what life is like here and now, on earth.  I asked John why it is that our great God, the Lord of heaven and earth, had his son born to peasants in unsecured and unknown towns; or why this God speaks in fables and dreams while men like Herod give orders to armed legions?  Or why was it only God’s son who was warned to escape Bethlehem while Hannah was left alone to die?  And hundreds more with her?

I cannot even remember John’s reply, but my husband Yoseph had a few choice words for John that he had the audacity to bring up that terrible night as if this Jesus……    As Yoseph regained his temper, he thanked him for the lunch and sent him on his way without another word.  He wished him luck that he and his Jesus might somehow survive either Herod Antipas or Caesar or the Chief Priest, for that matter, but I feel none the better for our conversation.   There’s no way this Jesus being born could justify my Hannah being taken from me.  Here I sit, and thirty years have passed, but no words and no anger will bring Hannah to me.  I no longer know who I am or how to live.  I write, only, to keep record of what I now know of her story.  God have mercy on us.

Journal Entry 3

Today, Hannah’s story in this book comes to a close.  Very briefly I’ll say that, through John, in the past year I’ve been able to meet Jesus in person.  To follow him in the crowds, very skeptically at first.  Then, to eat with him and speak with him intimately a few times.  And the same wisdom and Spirit that I saw in John in that synagogue, I’ve felt in Jesus – as the source of it, like the sun sharing its light.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I first even entertained the idea that he could really be our Messiah.  It was gradual, as he answered many of my questions, and gave me new ones.  But something in his teaching, that the others usually overlooked or rebuked, started to call out to me.  He would occasionally speak of death, and of his own suffering.  He would hint at the need to shed his blood, and to tear down the Temple only to rebuild it again.  He spoke of a time of great personal sorrow to come, and of his own pain, and of his followers being prepared to carry a cross every single day.

And I don’t know what it was, but while the others murmured about these strange, off-hand comments of his, they rang in my heart.  While the crowds asked him not to say such things, but foamed at the mouth for the triumph of Israel over the Romans and all our enemies, it sounded to me like something deeper was at work.  So, yes, just weeks ago during the Passover when he was arrested, I was stirred to draw near to Jesus like never before.  What did I have left to lose?  What could the soldiers take from me now that they haven’t already ripped from me?

As some of his crowd fled in fear or others shouted out in their disappointment for him to be killed like a criminal, I prayed for him.  As I watched what they did to him, and how he endured, as he suffered, and felt unspeakable pain, at no fault of his own, in spite of his innocence, I thought of the innocence of my 1 year old, Hannah.  And I ached for his mother Mary, to witness the unspeakable ways they were treating him.  It was this final thought that confirmed in me that this was my Lord and my God.

I, who wasn’t one to look for a Messiah, who felt like no one on this earth knew my tragedy or could possibly feel my pain – I understood the injustice and cruelty, tyranny and evil, that was upon Jesus.  And I knew for certain that this was not God’s doing, but it was the fruit of what men and women had chosen to do, that day and since the beginning.  Then I remembered Jesus’ words about freedom.  “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  It convicted me that, in all of the many ways that I’d hardened my heart these decades, some of his suffering was my own doing.  But Jesus’s way was to come and submit to such a thing, in order to finally set things right.  In his own words, he had become the Passover lamb for my sake and for the sake of his children, and for the sake of the man next to me that day shouting curses at him, and for the sake of his own weeping mother, and even for the sake of Pilate and Herod and Caesar.

I stayed that day until the end; I followed them out of the city, heard his final words, and watched him pass into death.  I grieved and mourned.  I wondered what could be next.  And then I received word about Jesus at my home in Bethlehem, a simple message from the believers:  “the grave could not hold him.”  And today I remember his words:  “Because I live, you shall live also.”    And though, more than 30 years ago, while his innocents were slaughtered in Bethlehem, God did not intervene in that moment to spare Hannah’s earthly life, I trust that, today, she lives also.  And I will.  So, as I said, today her story in this book comes to a close, because it continues elsewhere.

John 3:16-17 —

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 

This was written by Josh McClendon and Narcie Jeter.

Christ the WAY

img_jesus_is_the_way

Isaiah 11:1-10

11A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Matthew 3:1-6

3In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

In verse 4 of Matthew chapter 3 it says, “Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” Call me crazy. I discovered this purely by accident. But when John the Baptist is described I happen to envision my brother Josh. As I sat thinking about how I would describe John the Baptist, Josh immediately came to mind, for whatever reason. Perhaps that’s to do with my spending Thanksgiving in South Carolina with my family. Perhaps you think everyone from South Carolina is straight off of Duck Dynasty. My uncle Ralph recently said at a football tailgate that he HATES the show. He quickly followed that up with the comment, “Because I live it!” His words, not mine. Josh went to Clemson (y’all would expect me to talk about the game last night – but I won’t) where he fell in love with waterfalls and lakes and hiking in the mountains. Josh is what I would describe as rugged? Scraggly – with his cut off khakis and flip flops? Fearless? Let’s just say Josh thrives on adventure. His love of Bear Grylls was on full display at our Fall Retreat where he talked about survival. I didn’t know that Bear was a man of faith until the retreat, but I could have assumed by the way he lives that he was a man after God’s own heart.

Before I show this clip, it’s not for the faint of heart or people with weak stomachs, so be forewarned….

Now, I realize those weren’t locusts. These bugs were juicier and oozier, if that’s even a word, and locusts would be crunchier. But what that entire description of John the Baptist tells me is that he was not afraid to march to the beat of his own drummer. He was not afraid to be different. He was not afraid to be prophetic – no matter the cost, no matter the friends he lost, no matter what.

The beginning of the Gospel of Mark begins with a quote from Isaiah about John the Baptist.

Mark 1:1-4
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark and Matthew both explicitly name John the Baptist as the one the prophet Isaiah talked about.

Fast forward through Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, through the temptation of Jesus, and the start of Jesus’ public ministry to John the Baptist’s imprisonment. In Matthew chapter 11, verses 2-6, “2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 4Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’”
Jesus wanted to continue John the Baptist’s legacy, making it complete, in him. The prophets had foretold this. Jesus’ wanted to build on John’s teaching, baptizing not just by water but by the spirit also. Jesus wanted to continue the revolution that John had started. Jesus also stepped to the beat of a different drum so he understood. He asked John’s disciples to take back what they could hear and see. And if Jesus came back today, what would he hear and see?

HOLIDAY SPIRIT: SHOOTINGS, STABBINGS, BRAWLS

2 Arrested In Walmart Parking Lot Stabbing… Las Vegas Shopper Shot On Way Home… New Jersey Man Pepper Sprayed… PHOTO: Madness At Macy’s… Staff Holding Back Shoppers… $300 Purses In Shambles… 2 Hurt After Shoplifting Call… Kmart Workers Strong-Armed… 110 Arrested At Walmart Protests…

Not to mention the guy that told off the lady on the airline flight and who later slapped him.

There’s got to be a different WAY.

We lit this candle on the Advent wreath symbolizing Christ the Way.

Do we know the way? In John 14:6 says, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That’s pretty clear. I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. Model my behavior. Be my light to the world.

Pope Francis on Tuesday released “Evangeli Guadium” or The Joy of the Gospel. It’s the first official document written entirely by Pope Francis. He writes, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

He writes, “More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving.”

He writes, “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor.”

He writes, “Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

Prophetic and powerful words that have much to teach us.

And, who can forget this picture?

pope francis

Pope Francis knows something of what the prophet Micah spoke of in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Is that epitomized in our society? Is that epitomized within the flight incident? Jesus would have called her out – sure. But he was not passive aggressive. He would have done it in love.

Rivalry Saturday brings out the absolute worst in human nature, especially on facebook posts. Don’t even get me started on local politics because there was a lack of respect/decorum/common courtesy at the City Commission meeting I recently attended. I was appalled that adults acted that way.

We may pile up all sorts of opinions and points in an argument or debate, but in the end, with Jesus, love is the last word of all – God’s love for US, for all the world, and all of creation. During this season talking about the last word has a lot of connotations for me. For some, we’re coming off a holiday week and family brings out the best and the worst in each of us. We may wonder if we’ll ever get the last word on anything. For others, we think of some of our friends or family or co-workers or maybe even ourselves as ones who thrive on having that last word and can’t imagine life without getting it. I think of the television show Modern Family and the hilarity that ensued during the holiday episode between the “Realists” and the “Dreamers.”

Start at 17:00 – Stop at 21:34

But as the episode pointed out, you need a little bit of both. We need each other – both realists and dreamers. We have to find a middle way. We have ones who are ready to concede the argument and ones that will fight to the bitter end trying to get the last word – but we all need to be somewhere in the middle. We shouldn’t bowl over just because we’re “Christians” and let people walk and talk all over us, but we also shouldn’t be the ones that are raising our voices so that we’re the loudest so that our point can be heard over all the masses not caring about the casualties that may surround us. AND we can speak up for the voiceless. It often doesn’t feel like we get a say in anything and we’re merely reacting to what happens, instead of setting the course. I learned this advice in defensive driving class that I always carry with me, “You can only control your car. You can’t control what another driver does, how he or she acts, or whether or not they tailgate you and speed around you. You can only control how YOU react to the situation.”

So walk the talk this Advent season. Walk it. Do justly, love mercy, and WALK humbly with your God. And that is the WAY of Christ Jesus our Lord. Are we ready to jump in and live out the WAY of Christ in our last two days of classes? Are we ready to rock our final exams? All the tests, essays, or final group projects? Or jumping ahead to the break – family plans or packing up the residence hall room or bills or how we’re going to pay for next semester or the future or health or the glorious graduation celebration for our December graduates that thought this day would never come. Are we ready to walk in the WAY of truth, the WAY of grace, and the WAY of love?

We will answer with a big, resounding YES.

The First Sunday in Advent

isaiah61

Isaiah 60:2-3

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

 Hebrews 11:1-3

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

We’re sticking with our tradition of starting Advent early, but the way the calendar falls this year, we’re just starting a week early.  So this is the first Sunday of Advent or Hope, the second Sunday of Advent or Christ the Way or Love will be next Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent or Peace will be on December 8th, and the fourth Sunday of Advent or Joy will be celebrated on December 15th.  We will celebrate Christmas Eve on Reading Day which is December 4th.  Is that confusing for anyone else?  We’re committed to celebrating the full season of Advent as we prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior.

When I noticed the Christian radio stations starting to play Christmas music, I was indignant because I thought it was still mid-October.  I stopped and thought a minute before realizing it was the week before Thanksgiving.  So for some of you sticklers out there that don’t listen to any Christmas music pre-Thanksgiving, you would agree with my indignation.  But considering that the Charlotte and Columbia Christian radio stations would play Christmas music starting on Halloween, I’ll take the week before Thanksgiving any day.  Thank goodness that our Halloween decorations were Harvest-themed because we still haven’t taken them down.  Who knows when we’ll decorate for Advent/Christmas?  And the kids have already started asking.  We’re decorating here at Wesley during our leadership meeting next Sunday.  Better late than never.  We’re only going to be halfway through Advent at that point.

It’s hard to get into the spirit of Advent because we’re skipping over holidays and in the life of students this is definitely crunch time.   If I start running down my list of thing to do, buy, and parties to attend I’ll want to stay in bed and pull the covers up over my head and let this Advent/Christmas pass on by.  Speaking of getting prepared – tell me you haven’t heard of Brown Tuesday.  It ISN’T a thing.

(start at 1:24 and stop at 2:31)

Brown Thursday?  Where you get a jump on shopping for Christmas presents?  Or HDTV’s for yourself?  Note:  Four years ago, Mike and I decided to get up early on Black Friday for the specific purpose of buying a TV.  So I’m not hating or judging or pointing fingers.  Well, maybe I am, but I’m guilty too!

But what if we did things a little differently this year?  Give a goat for just $120 to Heifer International, dig a well for just $35 through Church World Service, or give to UMCOR for the typhoon in the Philippines or the communities recently hit by tornadoes in the Midwest, knowing that the money you give is going 100% to the victims of these natural disasters because United Methodist Churches all over the world give money to pay UMCOR’s administrative costs.  What if we do Advent differently?

Advent is one of my favorite times in the church calendar.  But this year, as I’ve spent all morning describing, I’m completely not ready for it.  It’s much more than just getting ready for Christmas and knowing how many shopping days you have left.  We have to pace ourselves.  Advent is the season that past and future collide in the present.  A time of already (as in Christ did come and is here) and not yet (Christ will come again).  The word Advent comes from the Latin verb advenire, which means “to come toward, to draw near, to approach.”  This is the time when we remember God’s drawing near to us in Jesus Christ in the past, in the present, and in the age to come.  Just like the Alpha and the Omega – the kingdom of God is the already and not yet – here amongst us, but also something that we long to come to completion.

I guess it’s that sense of expectation and hope that draws me in.  It’s a time of preparation, different from Lent, when there’s a sense of anticipated joy and hope not just from the ashes but at the end of a long journey.  Maybe those are similar in your minds but to me there’s a difference.  Take the Gators.  I know, I know.  In many ways it feels like you’re living a life of Lent.  From dust you came and to dust you will return and to witness the game yesterday was demoralizing.  But then there’s that sense of hope that comes with being a true fan.  The hope that we’ll have a better season next year.  Or maybe we’ll end the season on a high note?  Advent teaches us to expect the unexpected and nothing would be more unexpected than if the Gators beat the Noles next Saturday.  A brief commercial for the Gator Seminole Showdown….one way that we can beat the Seminoles on Saturday is if we win the pledge per point contest so go to www.gatorwesley.com/showdown.

No one expected the savior of the whole world to be born as a baby.  No one could foresee the Great God of the Universe coming in the form of the most vulnerable thing on earth – a baby.

Although we may be more comfortable with a “baby Jesus” because he’s cute and we can find some semblance of controlling him.  We may be more comfortable with Christmas Jesus versus Easter Jesus.  But if you’ve ever had children you know from the time that they enter the world they’re on their own schedule and you can expect the unexpected.

And no one knows “expectant waiting” like a pregnant woman.  I will never forget the first Sunday of Advent in 2008.  My mom, dad, grandmother, Josh, Caleb, and my sister-in-law Karen, and of course Enoch and Mike, had all come to our town house to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Because I was about to pop with Evy.  My due date was a month away, but Enoch had come a month early, so Thanksgiving happened at our house that year.  It was baby watch.  Have you ever heard the phrase, “a watched cake never bakes” or “a watched pot never boils.”  My grandmother, Ganny (I couldn’t say my r’s when I was little, so because I was the first grandchild they became Ganny and Gandaddy) kept asking me throughout the weekend if I was feeling anything.  If I was feeling anything like contractions.  I repeatedly told her I was not and could she leave me alone!

I was preaching that Sunday at St. John’s in Fort Mill, the next town over, where Mike did the music for the non-traditional service.  That was the first Sunday of Advent.  I have never forgotten how it felt to do the first Sunday of Advent as a pregnant person – the anticipation, the waiting , the expectancy, the perceived urgency…I don’t remember what exactly I said that day.  Who knows.  I blame it on pregnancy brain.  But as soon as I was done preaching and Mike and the band started playing the closing song, I began to have contractions.  I didn’t tell Mike or my Mom right away.  I needed some confirmation first.  As we got into the car a song I had never heard before was playing.

The song was “Jesus Born on This Day” by Avalon that was originally done by Mariah Carey.  It had just come out in November 2008.  That was just the confirmation I needed.  So we dropped Mom and a sleeping Enoch off back at our house with instructions to let the rest of the family know because they had been worshipping at Josh’s church.  And we drove back in the other direction for Charlotte calling the doctor on the way.  I’ll spare you the details, but as soon as the Carolina Panthers game was over, Mike and the doctor turned around and within two pushes Evangeline Grace Jeter made her way into the world at 4:30 in the afternoon.  Evangeline means “Good News or the bearer of Good News” and Grace is self-explanatory, but what a name to start the Advent season right, and we planned the name, before realizing how appropriate it would be.

Good news.  Good news of great joy.  Grace.  God with us.

This is Advent.  Not just a time of talking about dreams or what if’s or one day’s, but getting ready right now.  Putting yourself out there, right now.  Going for it, right now.  It’s easy in the consumerism and the narcissism and the pessimism to let the weight of the world fall heavy on our shoulders.  It’s hard in student land to get in the spirit of Advent as you feel the full weight of the semester with assignments, tests, papers, group projects, etc., with most of you exhausted, sick and ready to have a break and I’m not just talking about Thanksgiving when you’ll be doing school work in the midst, I’m talking about a nice, long Winter’s break.  It’s hard in the lives of teachers and parents trying to get through these last few weeks before Santa, Santa, Santa.  It’s hard for those who have lost loved ones, who have lost jobs, who have no idea where money is going to come for electricity much less gifts.  It is hard.

But Advent is so much more than just our personal worlds.  It’s the in-breaking of the kingdom of God as God Almighty, the Great God of the Universe, became One of us.  It’s the waiting not only for this child (the already) but for the Triumphant King (the not yet).  It’s the waiting for justice and righteousness and all of the beautiful words in Isaiah 9:6-7 “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.  He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

So in this season of Advent I’m doing my best to focus on the thanksgivings.  Which is ironic.  I’m doing my best to open my eyes and my heart to the unexpected all around me.  I’m trying to not let the to do lists or the gifts to still be gotten or the Christmas cards that probably won’t happen or the people that cut you off in traffic or the things that constantly go wrong in the midst throw me off track in centering my heart and being present to the journey towards the stable.

I am asking God to wipe away my cynicism and my weariness and to fill my heart with the joy and wonder and Christmas spirit that’s more than a cheesy Christmas song or tv movie, but that is life giving and life changing.  Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

As we enter into a season that often looks a lot more like Brown Thursday or Black Friday with the rush, bustle, mayhem, and angst than the arrival of our Savior into the world, may we remember, may we know, may we connect, may we take time to explore this Advent season anew and afresh.

May God open our eyes to some of our disconnect.  May we realize when we’re drawing from the Source or when we’re just running on fumes.  May we see and know and feel God’s rhythm in our bones as we go about our day to day resting in God’s love, strength, patience and wisdom and not our own will, arrogance, or seeming energy.

I am grateful for a God who loves me even when I’m spinning my wheels.  I am grateful for the Spirit who leads and guides and gives us the nudges and awakening when we need it.  I am grateful for the inspiration of Christ to show us how we are to live, bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

As we go forward with a different kind of Advent, may we hear the words anew and afresh from Matthew 5:16, “Jesus said, ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

I’ll leave you with Amy Grant’s “I Need a Silent Night.”  Reflect on how you want to start this Advent season.  Set some goals so as to not let the season pass you by.  May we do Advent a little bit differently this year.

– I Need a Silent Night by Amy Grant