21 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 “Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd[b] spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
My mom gives Enoch and Evy all kinds of Christian books. They have many “my first Bibles,” pre-school Bibles, and “big kids” Bibles. We actually have two copies of My Very First Easter Story.
Oh, though it’s only 2 pages, Enoch and Evy filled in the details. Evy said it was all about friendship. Enoch said that it was a horse (some versions say this). Evy said they had laid the palm branches and cloaks down because they didn’t want Jesus to walk in the mud.
You see, all of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) have this story. They included different details but the same overarching story.
I have chosen to stick with the Palm Sunday text. You see the lectionary texts for today give us the options of choosing the Palm text and the Passion text. I normally do some mixture of the two, however, I wanted to be intentional about sticking to the text and journeying through this week with Jesus.
The hesitancy of pastors is that if people only attend on Sundays, you get the celebration of Palm Sunday back to back with the Alleluias of Easter. High point. Even higher point.
You miss why in just 5 days the same people that shouted “Hosanna” and waved palm branches, shouted “Crucify him! Crucify him!” You miss Jesus ticking off the Pharisees in the temple when he turned over the tables and called them a brood of vipers. You miss them plotting to kill him. You miss Jesus’ teaching the disciples you have to be last to be first as they witnessed him washing their and their friends’ feet. Their Rabbi that they had followed for three years, getting all of his radical dust on them, as he continually flipped the script. Doing what is always least expected. Who else would have people waving palm branches praising him and wanting to kill him less than a week later?
He was the One they had waited for. He was the One whom the prophets foretold. He is the One Herod was so afraid of that he slaughtered all of those innocent children. He was the One who preached in his hometown and they said, “Who is this kid? Is he Joseph’s boy?” He was the One who called Peter, James and John just a bunch of fishermen and said they were the best of the best of the best as he asked them to be his disciples. He was the One who cast out demons, healed the paralytic and the hemorrhaging woman, called Lazarus forth FROM THE GRAVE. He was the One even the wind and the waves obeyed. He was the One. Not just Neo from the Matrix or Frodo from the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, but THE ONE. And the people were PUMPED until … they realized he wasn’t a political or military conqueror. He was not going to ride in on a float and wave and provide good sound bites. He was not going to incite a revolt among people groups. He was not going to be boxed in to a certain tradition. He was not going to maintain the status quo or social norms. He came to flip the script. He came to set ALL people free. He came to set us free from BOTH sin and death. He came to set us free from all of the burdens and shackles of this world.
I spent the week talking to Donal Hook about salvation. He was recounting what Harry said two weeks ago about Jesus wiping the slate clean and I said that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love and we’re all worthy, enough, and chosen. He said he was like the man saying, “Help my unbelief!” I appreciated his honesty as I relate to the man and the words as well! Remember the story. It’s immediately after the transfiguration and the disciples are in a tizzy. In Mark 9:19-24 he says to the disciples, “19 “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” 23 Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” I believe; help my unbelief. We had many discussions over the past week and a half. Most of the time it boiled down to me saying, that’s what’s so amazing about grace! We have faith that God’s grace is real and ever abundant to cover anything we throw at God. I brought up singing “Amazing Grace” on Sunday night when I visited him, but I was too embarrassed to sing in front of his family, some of whom I had just met, with my off-key voice, but I ended up singing it on Tuesday with his son Michael and Michael’s wife Marlene and that became our theme song over the last couple of days. That and Psalm 23. I frequently have Psalm 23 rolling around in my head as I pray. It epitomizes to me the fullness of life. God making us lie down in green pastures, anointing our heads with oil, and as I said to Donal and praying with he and his family, Jesus is the One who walks with us even through the darkest valley of the shadow of death. Don joined the great cloud of witnesses yesterday and he is at peace and at rest.
You skip right over that lonesome and dark valley when you go from the triumphant entry of Palm Sunday to the glory of Easter and Resurrection. You don’t get the dark days in between of doubt, fear, frustration, anger. You don’t get the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus asking God to take this cup from him. You don’t see, hear, or feel his pain as he’s betrayed, denied, beaten, stripped, crucified. You don’t get the agony and anguish or the simple humanity of it all, the muck and mire. He was the Human One. Not a super hero that could leap over buildings. He took on the form of a baby, both fully divine and fully human. He felt everything we feel and even when he was on that cross he was thinking of us as he says, “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing.
If you don’t journey towards the cross, you miss out on the struggle and the deep pain of what it means to have an Emmanuel – God with us – even on the darkest night of our souls. To have a savior who suffers right along with us. Who knows the full extent of our pain and then some…
I encourage you to read the stories this week and meditate on them. I encourage you to walk this journey towards the cross. On Thursday we’ll gather here with Isle of Palms UMC for a joint Maundy Thursday service where we’ll celebrate Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. On Friday we’ll have our Good Friday Tenebrae service. If you’ve never been to a Tenebrae service, I encourage you to do so. The word “tenebrae” comes from the Latin meaning “darkness.” The Tenebrae is an ancient Christian Good Friday service that makes use of gradually diminishing light through the extinguishing of candles as scriptures are read of that encompass the entire fullness of Holy Week. This increasing darkness symbolizes the approaching darkness of Jesus’ death and of the hopelessness in the world without God. The service concludes in darkness and worshipers then leave in silence to ponder the impact of Christ’s death and await the coming Resurrection. As Bob Goff, author of Love Does says, “Darkness fell. His friends scattered. All hope seemed lost. But heaven just started counting to three.”
I invite us to count to three together as a faith community as One body. We rejoice with one another. We weep with one another. We share in the mountaintops and the darkest of the darkest valleys and that is why it’s so special to have shared in this Holy meal together these past Sundays of Lent. We have gathered bread, sustenance, strength to face together whatever life throws at us. When we feel like giving up, when we need a helping hand or an encouraging word, we are there for one another with Jesus ever in our midst. We live, move and breathe in Christ, our Rabbi, our One with us. The One who calls each of us worthy, enough, beloved by God. The One we celebrate when we celebrate this Holy Sacrament of Communion….
We continue today in our series on the “3 Simple Rules,” the guidelines for living the Christian life in such a way that we will actually be changed by God’s grace. Remember the image we’ve been using: if our sin and spiritual failures are like stumbling and skinning our knees, then we aren’t interested just in a faith that’s like a million band-aids; we’re interested here in a faith that invites us to grow into our spiritual legs so that we fall down less in the first place, so that, by God’s grace, we mature into being able to walk and maybe even run with God. So, the last two weeks we’ve looked at what it means to “Do No Harm,” and then to “Do Good.” That brings us to rule #3 which we’re going to translate a little, but first let’s look at the original text from back in the day:
General Rule #3
“Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are:
The public worship of God.
The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded.
The Supper of the Lord.
Family and private prayer.
Searching the Scriptures.
Fasting or abstinence.
These are the General Rules of our societies; all of which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts. If there be any among us who observe them not, who habitually break any of them, let it be known unto them who watch over that soul as they who must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But then, if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.”
So the third rule is to attend upon the ordinances of God or, you could say, to observe the spiritual disciplines that help you abide in God. Bishop Ruben Job, who wrote the book that inspired this series, describes rule #3 this way: Stay in love with God. Stay in love with God. For John Wesley and the Methodists, a list like this, these sorts of things, were the tools of intimately relating to the Lord. They called them the “means of grace” because they’re gifts from God, for the people of God to apply, and God promises that when we put ourselves wholeheartedly into these things, we are guaranteed to meet God’s grace there. God is just waiting there, if only we come looking. So, the Methodists said, let’s go looking, weekly, even daily, through spiritual practice like this. Seek God.
Psalm 105:4 says, “4Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.” If you have not struck up a conversation with God in a while, do it. I watched the movie The Shack a couple of weeks ago with my parents and I love how the little girl calls God “Papa.” I don’t think that that would come authentically out of my mouth, but I love the intimacy. If you’ve not been active in your relationship, it’s going to be a little awkward at first. There will be starting and stopping, but keep trying and practicing. Spiritual disciplines are simply about practicing our relationship with God, cultivating it. It may be like going a first date. One where you have one of your friends call for what is an “emergency” when conversation breaks down. Push through. Persevere. The conversation, the dance, the relationship IS worth it. You may be thinking, “It’s easy for you, Pastor. Sure! But I don’t have time. I don’t even know how to pray. I don’t know see God and I don’t even know if I trust God. God is an unfair and unjust God. God doesn’t care about me.”
As Matthew 7:7-11, “‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Seek – find. Ask – it will be given. Knock – door opened. God is a good God. God loves each of us with an abundant love. There is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. As Harry said last week, Jesus wiped the slate clean of any of our wrong doing and we are stamped Child of God.
I think we place our human hang ups on God. We think God’s a punishing God, keeping a record of wrongs. We think God is a genie God, a wish fulfiller. God cannot be boxed in. God is Yahweh, the Great I Am. In our Monday Small Group we are reading Bob Goff’s book Love Does and he writes, “I used to think God wouldn’t talk to me, but now I know I’m just selective with what I choose to hear.” So clean out the ear wax and hear the words of God. “I love you. You are bought for a price. You are fearfully and wonderfully made for a purpose. Nothing will ever separate you from my love.” And if you live knowing that? Nothing can stop you from radiating God’s love to everyone you meet.
Now, the thing is, you may have a hard time connecting to “stay in love with God” with a list like this. They can feel like spiritual chores, or eating our spiritual broccoli, and your love relationship with God can feel like rules and regulations, or something wild and personal and free. The thing about spiritual disciplines is that they depend on your perspective. They can either leave us feeling words like, “Boring. Difficult. Unattainable. Guilt” and, in our minds, we relegate spiritual discipline and holiness to only the few, aged maternal or paternal saints who are one-in-a-million Christians, the exception to the rule. Or we look at them like getting to know a friend better or cultivating a relationship with the lover of our souls. We need to rest in that knowledge and form a core and center in it. If we lead from our cores, if we act out of our cores, if we live in the live and grace of God that emanates out of our pours…than we will truly take this world by storm and bring God’s kingdom to earth. If we abide in the vine our core…
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he pruned to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
Stay in love with God. Abide in God’s love so that your joy may be complete. If we keep our eyes and ears open, and our hearts, there’s a lot to this specific way of abiding, and if we’re brutally honest, some of the things that make it most special are the same things that, on occasion, make it really difficult.
First, not all of us at any given time like the idea of being pruned. Even metaphorically. In verses 2 and 3, Jesus describes how, with him, we’ll be pruned and cleansed, and it’s actually the same Greek verb both times, repeat after me: katharos. Katharos. A good English connection is catharsis. A catharsis is an expression of emotions that leaves us feeling deeply relieved. So, for instance, an ugly cry from time to time, whatever inspires it, that physically just cleans out your sinuses and emotionally unloads your burdens; that’s cathartic. Funerals are some of our biggest occasions for catharsis, to get everything out, and start to heal. This is the root of what Jesus says God the gardener does for us as branches in the vine: God prunes, gets the burdensome stuff out, purges the stunted growth, and leaves us whole by doing so. Great news, right?
Unfortunately, not all of us like to be pruned, we don’t always like self-denial, the idea of sacrificing things we’ve grown attached to. We look at God and say, “Can’t I just keep that one part of that one branch? I’ve gotten really comfortable with it. It’ll hurt if you remove that. Can’t I just send out a new branch in that direction, ‘cause I want to do that.” And pretty soon we’re a lot less like a fruit-bearing vine than a wild kudzu – more concerned with consuming in all directions than flowing with full life. Are you familiar with feeling that way? It’s why abiding is tough.
Second, not all of us at any given time really appreciate feeling tied down. Not only are parts of our lives open to pruning when we abide with Jesus, but he also says that we’re confined to the existence of branches. Now, again, sounds pretty great in a sense. Being intertwined with the Vine means having direction, having something to guide us. If you’ve ever ridden through a vineyard, these big gnarly stalks are usually carefully staked in, and supported on trellises, and there’s twine and gear everywhere to keep the branches properly placed to maximize production. It’s this big network of spider-web growth, orderly and efficient, and awesome. Even more, how awesome is it that Jesus is basically saying we get to live off his abundant, true life? Like, the very sap and richness and nutrients of God Almighty flows through the Vine directly into us. Really cool.
What some of us also hear in there is that abiding in the Vine means none of us gets to be a stand-alone plant. Nobody gets to be a towering trunk all on our own. We might start to fear that we won’t get to control our own destiny; or make our own decisions; or be creative and original. What if we won’t get to stand out from everyone else, or take credit for our own glory, or enjoy the spoils of OUR victories? Pretty soon we feel an itch to be, instead of a fruit-bearing vine all “tied up in knots,” a majestic oak that stands alone and knows no bounds. Are you familiar with any of that feeling? It comes natural. It’s why abiding is tough.
Last, when it comes to abiding in the Vine, a more elusive truth is that not all of us always want to be fruitful. We don’t always feel like it, don’t always think we’ve got it in us, don’t always appreciate the pressure of bearing fruit. But Jesus makes no bones: why does God prune? What’s the end-goal of my life flowing through you? So that produce comes forth. Not what you used to do. Not the result you got 10 years ago. I’m here living in you NOW. Just open your eyes to the possibilities and don’t live in the used to’s of your past. If we open our eyes to the unimaginable things God wants to do through us, then what can we not do? What is our limitation? Again, it can sound like the glory of glories that the Lord of Heaven and Earth chooses to use humble old us to accomplish amazing, eternal, life-saving, earth-changing feats of power and love. But as soon as we admit that we have the capacity to bear much fruit for God, all of a sudden it makes me wonder: “So where is all the good fruit then? Why does it seem like I’m not seeing any? What, instead, am I wasting my time on selfishly? What other priorities are driving my life? What if I just don’t feel like dealing with other people sometimes, or putting myself out there, or going out on the limb (vine humor), or doing it all over again? What if I can just never believe that somebody like me could ever do anything to seriously contribute to what God’s doing?” And pretty soon, rather than abiding in a fruit-bearing vine I’d much rather be, say, a nice, self-contained little cactus. Unassuming, inwardly-focused, good to go unto my own survival, sure a little bit prickly but, hey, now God won’t need to worry about expecting anything from me. Are you familiar with any of those ideas, those feelings? Anybody else ever have a little cactus in’em? It’s why abiding is so tough.
What I’m saying is that, for everything that makes a relationship with Jesus sooo good, so unique and powerful and one-of-a-kind on earth, so life-giving and glorious, there’s something that rubs against our sinful nature. There’s a natural drawback, hesitation, and even a sense of “let me run in the opposite direction.” I think these are the same reasons why the spiritual disciplines, the means of grace, as beautiful, powerful, and life-giving as they are, are usually described as confining, boring, and impossible to attain: because they are the ways that we know how to abide, and abiding is tough for our human nature. We would sometimes rather do a thousand other things than these; we’d rather get to these things last if we have time; we’d rather choose all sorts of artificial substitutes over these things, in order to feel like we get to grow what we want to grow, the way we want to grow, as selfishly as we want to do it. Sometimes, the “disciplines” we have to stay in love with God just aren’t that attractive to the part of us that is rooted in the world, but there’s freedom in that as well. Bob Goff writes, “The cool thing about taking Jesus up on His offer [to abide in him] is that whatever controls you doesn’t anymore. People who used to be obsessed about becoming famous no longer care whether anybody knows their name. People who used to want power are willing to serve. People who used to chase money freely give it away. People who used to beg others for acceptance are now strong enough to give love. When we get our security from Christ, we no longer have to look for it in the world, and that’s a pretty good trade.” That is a heck of a trade. Not to get our value from the world. Knowing and trusting God to give us the only value we need.
Y’all, as we close today, this passage isn’t supposed to be bad news. To the disciples’ ears, shortly before Jesus’ death, these words were meant to offer the hope of how they would get to remain in relationship with their beloved Lord and Master. Just listen to how Jesus wraps up in verse 11: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” The same is true for us. We know that when we pray, when we worship publicly, when we study scripture, when we fast and abstain, we have a chance to meet God, to know God, to be in love with God, and to stay in love. In these practices, God’s pruning helps us slough of the dead things that are draining our life; growing in Christ our Vine means living into holy design; and bearing fruit means taking part in the Lord’s redeeming work. As one of the three simple rules, abiding through the spiritual disciplines, means we are going to work on this together. The mighty redwood trees of California’s Sequoia National Park are the largest life-forms on Earth; yet it is a rare thing to see a redwood standing alone. This is because the roots of the Sequoia do not extend deep into the earth, as most tree roots do; they snake along just beneath the surface of the soil. So shallow are the redwood’s roots that, when a tree is young, it is easily toppled by the wind.
The redwoods that survive — and that grow to such astounding heights — are the ones whose roots intertwine with those of other trees, forming a great interwoven mass of support. The storms that bluster their way through the valleys of the Sierra Nevada can work no harm on those trees: for they stand strong and tall together, in community. We will walk with each other spurring each other on to good works. We will stand stronger together because we are going to create a firm foundation as we all seek to abide in Christ. We are asking and seeking to become more faithful followers of Christ and the Spirit of Christ will abide in us as we abide in him. Praise be to God.
Mike and I got turned on to the band The City Harmonic because they had their song “Mountaintop” on one of the CD’s that he gets in Worship Leader Magazine. We immediately were fans. I don’t know if you know this about me yet, but if I’m blasting my iTunes on the computer in my office, I’m being productive. I’m in the groove. I love music. Music is one of the ways I tap into God’s voice. Music has a way of moving you out of your own way so that you can see the kernel of truth. We hear music. We sing along. We think about the words. It taps into the deep well of our souls in a way nothing can and it can come to us in our times of need. I remember bits of hymns or praise songs or scriptures when I’m at my most vulnerable and raw.
This morning a song from The City Harmonic came on my iTunes. It’s called “Love, Heal Me” and it has a powerful story behind it. One that I knew about, but I didn’t discover the youtube video until today. As a congregation, many have been battling cancer and everyone has been touched in some way by cancer. I know this for sure and for certain that God doesn’t cause cancer or any other disease. God doesn’t want any of God’s children to suffer. “Everything happens for a reason” is no where in scripture, but God working all things for good (Romans 8:28) is definitely there. The Psalms are full of people crying out to God in grief, in anger, in desperation….and God was with each of them then and God is with each of us now, no matter what battle we face.
Eric describes his bandmates, their families and the fans coming alongside him as he journeyed through cancer. He says, “I kept saying I can’t write this right now. I can’t say these things right now. I believe them, but I can’t say them right now. He said (talking about lead singer Elias) I think you need to write it. I think we just need to do it. And in that, in and of itself, him as a brother forcing me to deal with what I was processing at the time. That’s what we’re hoping to do with our music to the larger body because the truth is, I was in a really vulnerable and raw place and it really helped to get the songs out and to state what I knew I believed and what I knew to be true even if I couldn’t feel it at the time.”
My desire is that for the Church to come alongside people, to not give cliched answers, but instead to listen, embodying love and grace for all. I want the church to be vulnerable and raw and for that to be okay. Jesus doesn’t call the perfect. He calls the messy people that don’t have it all together. Don’t worry….that’s each and every of us. As Roberta Porter writes in her poem Transforming Love, “God wants our lives — not Sunday morning shiny, but all the fragments of our failures, shards of struggle and sin we’ve gathered, hidden, on our way. And in Jesus’ transforming love, his willing brokenness, sacrifice, rising, our sorrow and pain become gifts to be used for others, our weakness the dwelling place for the Spirit’s strength, our broken-open lives bearers of God’s grace.” Even those who have been turned off by the church. Even those who are angry at God. Even those that feel like God has forgotten them and is not listening. The world doesn’t need all of the “right” answers, the world needs a Church that is authentically caring about each of us, loving each of us exactly where we are, taking the time to build relationships with each of us. As we sit at the feet of the Rabbi, as we learn to be true disciples that walk the way that leads to life, may we take off our masks. May we let the scales of stress and expectation fall away.
Most of all, let us never forget GOD IS WITH US. Every step of the way. Through good times and bad. Sometimes we need our Christian community to remind us of who we are and Whose we are, for them to help us sing when we can’t make a sound, for them to lift us up when we fall. There’s an old Irish proverb that I think exemplifies what I believe the image of Christian community to be. “It is in the shelter of each other that people live.” It is in the shelter of each other that people live. My prayer is that as we continue to battle whatever adversity life throws at us, we draw closer to one another and to the One whose mercies are new every day, even when it’s hard for us to believe that.
“Love, Heal Me”
I’m broken down
I’m on my knees
I’m crying out in my disease
I’m so worn down
So won’t You speak
and tell me how
You care for me?
’cause You are God
You heal all things
Your name is Love
So Love, heal me
I’m broken now
Won’t always be
Yes, I’ve seen pain
I’ve seen grief
But how it fades
When I sing
These songs of love:
They help me see that
You are God
You heal all things
Your name is Love
So Love heal me
And I’ll hold on
‘Cause You heal all things
Your name is Love
So Love, heal me
I’m falling down
I’m on my knees
I’m singin’ out: You’re what I need
I’m singin’ out: You’re what I need
I’m seeing now You’re here with me
“Praise The Lord”
Praise the Lord when it comes out easy
Praise the Lord on top of the world
Praise the Lord ‘cause in every moment Jesus Christ is Lord
Even in the middle of the joys of life
There is always grace enough today to
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Won’t you praise the Lord?
Praise the Lord with the world on your shoulders
Praise the Lord when it seems too hard
Praise the Lord ‘cause in every moment Jesus Christ is Lord
Even in the middle of the long, dark night
There is always grace enough today to
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Won’t you praise the Lord?
Praise the Lord if you can sing it at the top of your lungs
Praise the Lord like every moment is a song to be sung
Praise the Lord: though it might take blood, sweat and tears in your eyes
There is grace for today so praise the Lord
There is grace for today so praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Won’t you praise the Lord?
There is grace for today so praise the Lord
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:14-21
What are you thankful for? Over the next days/weeks leading up to Thanksgiving I’m going to try to put some good in the world, some light in the midst of the darkness and bitterness of the world. I have been slack on my 30 days of thanks for the 30 days of November on social media to cultivate a spirit of gratitude. I’m grateful for SO very many things. Like life, breath, my family, a roof over my head, good food to eat, living in a country where I have the right to vote, a calling and vocation that keeps me on my toes and continues to reignite and renew me as the Triune God refreshes my Spirit. If all is grace, then we are thankful.
On All Saints Day, I am thankful for the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. These “saints” that have gone before are not just the heavy hitters like Mary or Paul or Mother Theresa. These saints encompass all of the people that have gone before us seeking to live as Christ. Some of these saints are ones that we read about in our Holy Scripture. Some are ones that we have read back and forth and still dig into their kernels of wisdom – CS Lewis, Jim Elliot, Teresa of Avila, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Love Jim’s “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”). Some of these are saints that may or may not be seen as religious folks – love me some Jane Austen, Joseph Heller and Louisa May Alcott. Others may be the ones that we’ve personally known or been shaped by.
I think about some of the dear saints I’ve known in this life. Mr. Howard and Ms. Evelyn that we sat with as children on Sundays while Dad preached and Mom sang in the choir. Ms. Betty teaching our first and second grade Sunday school class. I still remember the felt board with the Bible characters. Mr. Tim and Ms. Bunny who proved to me that people want to minister to their minister and his/her family and they really care about each of us. They would take my parents out to eat every Friday night and then stop by Dunkin Doughnuts to get us a mixed box of doughnuts among many things. Ms. Pal Moore who taught the best VBS for youth that I’ve ever been a part of and continues to be an encouragement in my life. She actually made the stole that I’m wearing. There are so many that I could easily name, I have been blessed beyond measure by all the saints who lifted, taught, and undergirded me, those who have laughed, cried, and shared life with me and those whose example I try to follow every day.
I think about the saints in our family…and then I start to tear up and laugh. The thing that I love about them and any of our saints for that matter, is that they were real people – flesh and bone and not always perfect. There’s this thing about saints that we build up to be otherworldly with rose-colored glasses, but the thing that I like the most is that they were colorful characters who didn’t just do everything prim and proper perfectly, but they made a splash. They had spunk. They did not go gentle into that good night as the Dylan Thomas poem goes.
There’s always been an interest in connecting with the afterlife. Mediums are not new. I think there’s a great big part of us that wants to know for sure and for certain that we’re not alone here. There’s part of us that wants to know that our family and loved ones – both from long ago and now – those who are dear to us – are okay and it’s going to be okay for us too. When I’m channel flipping, even I get sucked into the story and it has me tearing up at parts because of the sincerity of people really wanting to know that we are all connected and we stay connected and that this beautiful network of love doesn’t just stop here, but continues on.
As the seasons in South Carolina start to change for real and things are turning and getting colder and Winter is coming, I’m reminded that death is not the end. Yes, there is grief. Yes, there is change. Yes, there is loss. Yes, there are those we miss dearly. But the great cloud of witnesses surrounds us, spurs us on, and still speak to us in big and small ways. As Dad likes to share – these folks are often our “balcony people!” Joyce Landorf writes in her book you’re either a basement person or a balcony person. Dragging others down or lifting others up. The loved ones that we have lost and still feel a wide, gaping hole for, we have Christ’s promise of eternal life. We read these words of grace at any United Methodist Celebration of Life.
The Word of Grace
Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live,
and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
I died, and behold I am alive for evermore,
and I hold the keys of hell and death.
Because I live, you shall live also.
That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 3There are power in those words. It likens to the Revelation text in its broadening, yet definitive answer. As I look around my office and home to the things that I treasure – pictures with family, pictures at Ganny’s house, a beautiful picture painted by Robin, a shingle that my Gandaddy made with our pictures on it, Dad’s pottery, a “family tree” my Mom made for me….as I look into my heart to the things I treasure – both sassy grandmothers that neither minced words, had plenty of spunk, and weren’t afraid to use various words in their vocabularies, the amazing integrity and character of both of my grandfathers and their legacy of continuing to love people – whoever they are, whatever color they are or accent they have, wherever their family came from…these are the gifts that the communion of saints continues to give us as we wrestle with their words, their examples, their legacies and their authentic lives of faith. They leave lasting legacies and as Rafiki tells Simba in the Lion King clip I shared a few months ago, they live inside each of us. Louisa May Alcott writes, “Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”
Thank you God for all of those that have touched us in such mighty ways! May we ever remember them and treasure them in our hearts and may we give thanks for their legacies.
Who are your saints? Who has shaped you? What do you hold dear from the ones that have gone on before us?
The flip side is true too. Who are you being a good example for? Who are you mentoring? Who are you showing, by your very life, the way they should go?
I’ll tell you one final story that will transition us to communion.
In fact, you never know the legacies you will leave. You may not know that Gator Wesley was a local church, University United Methodist Church before it gave birth to Gator Wesley in 2010. Carmen was one of the older members who never stopped coming. He always would talk to those sitting around him at worship. Ali wrote on her facebook page the morning that Carmen died, “If I’ve learned anything from working at a church, it’s that you make friends with unlikely people. One of those friends, Carmen (the older man on the left in the gray hoodie) passed away this morning. I met Carmen before anyone else at Gator Wesley. My first Sunday I sat in front of him, when he preceded to ask me about 10 minutes worth of questions about my life, my plans, and my dreams. Almost every Sunday since, he’s asked me about the stories I’ve done and the people I’ve I’ve done and the people I’ve met. Although he was confused about what I was doing (he was fairly convinced my dream was to be a TV anchor or a talk show host), he kept listening. Every week he told me how he prayed for me. His last Sunday before he entered assisted care, he told me that I was going to go out and change the world. I didn’t know that was going to be the last time I saw him not in a hospital bed. While Carmen never realized it, the love he has shown all of the students at Gator Wesley has been unending. Although he was stubborn and cantankerous, he was a good man. Gator Wesley became his family. Wesley is much larger than this photo taken on Easter, but it’s nice to see Carmen with his home. Everyone deserves a Carmen in their life. I’m glad that I met mine.”
Carmen smiled and waved to students at the student apartment where he lived. He touched countless lives. He wanted his life to mean something. He was so deeply concerned, that his life didn’t matter, I started to tell him in his last days, that the students were his legacy. The students are his legacy. He would light up when “the students” were mentioned. The hospice social worker saw it and I did too. He only wanted to see “the students” at the end. So we piled into his room on a Sunday after church. Four of the students went with me and our Associate Pastor Ryan to see him the Wednesday before he died. That Wednesday night we shared the Lord’s Prayer, Carmen’s favorite prayer, and he was able to say some of it with us. That was the last smile I saw on his face, when he noticed the 4 students we brought.
The students are his legacy. I’ll never forget when I had finished a sermon and Carmen stood up quick as I’ve ever seen him and said, “Gator Wesley IS going to change the world!” I’m so glad I got to hear and see that. You see Carmen was a deeply spiritual person and a follower of Jesus Christ. He had been raised in the Catholic Church, but he didn’t like what he called the “rules” or what he thought was the earning of salvation. He struggled with the concept of grace. Don’t we all do that? He was just honest enough to say it out loud. He joined the baptism class my first year here and he would read the Bible and all of the handouts and he wanted a copy of the Baptism service in the Book of Worship and so on and so on. He wanted to be prepared and he was excited more about the United Methodist Church that I haven’t seen. I would tell him over and over again and again, any time he came up to me after the service, and in his last few weeks. You’re a child of God. You were made in your mother’s womb. God’s grace was given to every one of us. You don’t have to earn it. There’s nothing you can do to earn it. It’s a gift. You’re ENOUGH. I would say it over and over again. One of our students says it was meaningful to her, “To see his face light up in a group when he was told that God loves him no matter what.” “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And in this table we celebrate that. We are all enough. We are loved by the Great God of the Universe, that came to Earth Emmanuel, with an abundant, passionate, ever seeking, ever reaching love. We remember our saints, our great cloud of witnesses, as we try to be “balcony people” for others so we too can leave a legacy.
As we celebrate this meal…
PS – Anytime I preach on legacies, I’m reminded of this Nichole Nordeman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah1COE39ARs
I preached this at Point Hope UMC this morning. They were very gracious to me and we had a delicious lunch after church that Mike and the kids have raved about all afternoon. Thanks for being with me on this crazy journey called life. I want you to share your stories with me too! ‘Cause we’re not meant to do this life alone. Amen?
1I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
2In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.
3I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. Selah
4You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.
6I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit:
7“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
8Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time?
9Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
10And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
11I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old.
12I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.
13Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God?
14You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples.
15With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
16When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled.
17The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side.
18The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook.
19Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.
20You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Some of you may be wondering what on earth is this preacher doing using a Psalm as her text on her first Sunday. The Psalms get to the heart speak. They get down deep, to the nitty gritty. They’re full of real people celebrating their Good Shepherd and crying out desperately to God. Both the mountaintops and valleys, the fullness of the human experience, is captured in the Psalms.
Let me tell you a story. In my previous appointment I went to Costa Rica for a Spring Break mission trip in 2013 with Pura Vida Ministries. Listen to their mission statement: “We exist to transform lives by providing Christ-centered, life-changing mission adventures. We believe that following Jesus is Not an Event, but a Life!” Not an event, but a life. Not an event, but a life. I believe that. You will hear in my messages and hopefully see in my life a fervent desire to live our faith out loud, no matter the storms or challenges. They had different merchandise you could buy with “Not an event, but a life” so I brought back a mousepad for my office, not knowing then that I would have my second brain surgery later that May.
At a conference in Winchester, VA I had my first seizure. It was 2010 and I was 30 at the time. I was diagnosed with a brain tumor that they removed most of two weeks later. My tumor has a Harry Potter spell-like pronunciation to it – an oligodendroglioma. I had no complications or deficits after surgery. I mean I had a tube coming out of my head with a blood bulb that I would put in the pocket of my hospital gown when I went to the bathroom but you go through what you have to. I had the surgery on Friday and I was out on Sunday. My son Enoch had just turned 3 and Evy was 1;
so I recuperated at my brother Josh’s house. I was back home and at work the next Thursday, less than a week later, easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.
I remember writing on the prayer request card from Pura Vida at the end of the trip that I would have an MRI the following Monday. The MRI unfortunately showed the tumor had grown and so I began sharing with people that I would have a second surgery. I thought it would be like the first surgery, so I agreed to do a wedding 3 weeks later and was set to do a workshop in Chicago that June and set to preach at camp for a week in July. Unlike the first surgery where I had no complications, when I woke up I could understand everything the nurses, doctors, and my family were saying but I had lost my ability to speak. The doctors and speech therapists call it apraxia. Apraxia is the inability to execute learned purposeful movements, despite having the desire and the physical capacity to perform the movements. Oh, I had the desire in spades. In other words, the words were still there but the ability to form sentences was broken, non-existent.
The tumor is on the motor cortex, that’s why they didn’t get it all the first time, so I had no feeling in my right arm or hand, and I’m right-handed. I texted these words to my husband, Mike, with my left hand over two weeks later, “The quickness with which I speak comes back?” It took me 45 minutes to text that. I did 30 radiation treatments, 6 months of chemo, physical, occupational, and speech therapy over that year and then I went to the Ukraine to speak at a conference, but that is another sermon.
I’ve learned to rely on God because I HAVE to. I am an independent, non-conformist person mixed with a perfectionistic people pleaser and I ALWAYS relied heavily on my communication skills. I didn’t know how much until I couldn’t rattle off a prayer or answer a theological question or explain simple things to my kids or preach without a manuscript, or even the little things. I used to carry around a small calendar in my purse to jot stuff down in, I used to type x number of words a minute, I used to love to send handwritten notes to people. The ease and what came naturally to me before was lost and I still sometimes grieve that loss. It’s okay to grieve. God is with us when we mourn. God promises to bring joy in the morning, so I went back to preaching in June. I could read things and I reused every sermon that I had full manuscripts for that summer. My oncologist, who I met with more frequently that first year and now at least every 3-4 months, was an older man who was all business and had a wry sense of humor. Dr. Stahl always asked me if I was still preaching every week and I would always say yes. He doesn’t know, by him asking me that question every time that I’m just stubborn, bull-headed and tenacious enough to see that as a challenge and with God’s strength, to make it happen! He wrote this to me when he found out as I was moving, “It has been a privilege and a pleasure to have you as a patient-You have remarkable courage and determination-both of which have you served you well.”
We at the time had services every Sunday at 11 and every Wednesday night at 8:30 and shared in communion each time and it was a challenge to say the least. A number of things helped me get through that time great students and other church members, Gator Wesley had been a local church and our older members sent me cards of encouragement almost every day, my speech therapist being patient and pushing me and saying your brain will rewire itself, songs like “Lord I Need You,” movies like “Rise of the Guardians” talking about what is your center and having faith even when you cannot see and “The Legend of Bagger Vance” talking about each of us has one, true, authentic swing, when I didn’t feel confident in my own voice, and y’all’s prayers, cards, and prayer shawls from around the United Methodist connection. When I didn’t have the strength or the words or even the desire, on the dark nights of the soul, God was faithful. When my primary care doctor said to me that September, I don’t think this brain tumor’s going to kill you, let’s get you healthy and strong, God was working through her to give me the hope that I needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. God can and does use us to be lights in a world full of darkness. I knew then and I know now that God is with me every step of the way, continuing to strengthen me for the journey. How do I know? God gives us proof. The little reassurances along the way – the person that says something and God’s speaking to me through their voice, the song that happens to come on the radio or the itunes shuffle at just the right time, the passage of scripture I happen to read that morning…it doesn’t just “happen.” It’s a God thing. Claim it. Know it. Trust it. Be the person that Mother Teresa emulated as she said, “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”
God is ever present reminding me I am enough even when I don’t have the words. I am worthy even when I don’t have the answers. I can claim my inheritance by simply resting in the surety that I am a child of God. We all can. We are all worthy and enough. If I have learned anything over the past 6 years is it’s not enough to just merely have these quick fix Jesus highs, these Psalms of praise alone – no matter how great they are – because they won’t sustain you when the ship hits the sand or when the rubber hits the road and you’re left bereft. Developing a real, in depth relationship with Jesus will. Developing a faith that lasts and is rooted and grounded in scripture will. A verse, a song lyric, a prayer….When the storms of life are raging, I know where my hope is and that is in Christ alone. We sang the hymn, “In Christ Alone” at Annual Conference in 2011, one year after the first surgery, and we sang it just now before the sermon. It’s a song that means very much to me, especially the last verse.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
At a retreat a year after the second surgery, the facilitator asked us to write questions on 3 cards. They were to be questions where we needed the Holy Spirit to intercede, questions that were rolling around our heads but we had never articulated. Then we were to paint and cut out pictures from magazines for each card without seeing what questions were on the back. So I went to a place by myself and I invited the Holy Spirit to come by lighting a candle and I wrote these questions:
1. What do I need more of in my life?
What do I need to embrace?
2. What obstacles of the joy God wants for me do I consciously or subconsciously allow to hinder me from experiencing that joy?
3. What do I need to let go? Why am I so afraid to share my story?
I went through the cards and picked colors and themes as I felt the Spirit leading me to. Despite my skepticism, this activity ended being one of the most powerful practices that I have ever experienced. I had gotten so caught up in my designs and cutting anything out that struck me that I had completely forgotten the original questions.
The answer to the first question was this: written in pencil “In Christ Alone, cancer, and colors. I needed to embrace my cancer. I was a cancer survivor. And I need to place my trust “in Christ alone.” Even the part about the skin was pointing to me embracing myself. I had the dot tattoo so they could line me up to do my radiation and I had the scars from both the surgeries, but in the back of my mind I was still hiding.
We had been singing “In Christ Alone” during this retreat and when I shared that piece of my story later when all of us were sharing, we sang that as a closing song, which brought me to healing, relieving tears, like I let go of a burden. The second question was this picture. I look at this picture, I feel peace and beauty, and I needed more of that in my life after the year I had so I made a commitment to make room for beauty and positive and calming messages, so that’s why my office and home are decorated in such ways.
The last question of “What do I need to let go?” was the safe question. God was leading me to ask what I really needed. And the Holy Spirit was so loud in me, that I scribbled down the last question. It was surprising to me because I try to be real and authentic in all aspects of my life. That’s why I created the blog in 2010. I didn’t want to actually talk about my blog or anything that I wrote. And it was self-preservation and a bit of laziness to be sure because it was a way to share with my family, friends, students and the communities that raised me and fed me and are praying with me something I couldn’t say out loud. It was to share authentically with the world what was going on with me. It was a way to update everyone at once with what was going on inside my head. I rarely re-read and edit. So this question was surprising to me. But Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” It struck me as I was writing this sermon that I use “afraid.” And I think that is telling. I admit now I was afraid and I am afraid of being misunderstood, of losing my words, of not being in control…but as 1 Timothy 1:7 says God does not give us a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of power and love. God doesn’t call us to be silent, God calls to be bold and step out in faith and God will give us the words to speak.
Everything. I needed to let go of everything. And I felt safe in the arms of Mike in it all, but more than that I felt like God had and is protecting me from the storm. God was creating the perfect shelter, an eye in the hurricane. God was also giving me a clear message with these cards. I needed to share my story, integrating the cancer, no matter how hard, personal, and vulnerable.
I’ve claimed the words of Isaiah 41:8-10 (NRSV) “8 But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; 9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; 10 do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
Bob Goff in his book Love Does says, “I once heard somebody say that God had closed a door on an opportunity that they hoped for. But I’ve always wondered if, when we want to do something that we know is right and good, God places that desire deep in our hearts because He wants it for us and it honors Him. Maybe there are times when we think a door has been closed and, instead of misinterpreting the circumstances, God wants us to kick it down. Or perhaps just sit outside of it long enough until somebody tells us we can come in.”
God wants us to dream large God-sized dreams. God wants us to sometimes kick doors down. God wants to give us a future with hope. As Jeremiah 29:11-14 says, “11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” Or as it is in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Or as it is in Ephesians 3:20,“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
We’re not meant to walk this road alone. I want to walk with you and hear your stories so that in the mountain tops and the valleys, we can share with one another, come alongside one another, praying for each other, being church with one another. It’s a crazy cool relay race in the United Methodist Church’s system of itineracy. Joe passed Walter the torch. Walter passed me the torch and I am ever grateful for that torch and the care in which he handed it off. In 1 Corinthians 3:6, “Paul wrote, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” The earth is fertile here at Point Hope and God is indeed in your midst making things grow and making all things new. I trust God to rock our socks off! That’s the beautiful and crazy gift of having life in Christ. You follow where God has called you, no matter that you’re too old to have kids, like Abraham, no matter if you’re a prostitute, like Rahab, no matter the speech impediment like Moses, no matter if you don’t want to, like Jonah, no matter if you’re left in a foreign land with your mother in law, like Ruth…and that’s just the Old Testament. The Bible is chock full of stories about God doing extraordinary things with ordinary people. God didn’t stop writing stories two thousand years ago. I’m reminded of the Big Daddy Weave song that weaves in the hymn “This is my story, this is my song.” The lines are
If I told you my story
You would hear hope that wouldn’t let go
If I told you my story
You would hear love that never gave up
If I told you my story
You would hear life but it wasn’t mine
If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
To tell you my story is to tell of Him
We all have a story and when we take a moment in our busy lives to catch our breath and let the God that came and dwelt among us have room in our lives, we create room for God to share with us. If you’re thinking you don’t have a story, ask God and God will reveal your story. Or if the problem is not you not knowing, but getting it out or just not telling it, than Marianne Williamson says it this way, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be. You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Let your light shine that the world may see and know. If we all share our lights together – we will – with God’s strength – rock their socks off!
I had no idea before the age of 30 that my story would include a brain tumor, but I know I have life, indeed abundant life in Christ. Not just surviving but thriving. Too often I hear that we’ve just got to get through high school or college or grad school or we have to get our first job or get married or have children or retire to figure out what in the heck to do with our lives, but God doesn’t want us to let life pass us by so that we’re only barely surviving. God wants us to thrive. Jesus didn’t come so we could have a complacent life. He came for us to have abundant life.
I want each of us to be a part of God’s larger. Broader story, in our own particular way, with our own spiritual gifts, strengths or weaknesses that God works for good. Look under your chair, some of you might have peeked already, and that’s perfectly okay. This is to basically sum up my sermon and it was made by one of my favorite artists Suzanne Vinson. Here’s the full quote from Frederich Buechner.
“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”
I would like you to take this with you. Keep it in your wallet or in your dashboard or on your bathroom mirror. Let it be a reminder that nothing can separate you from the love of God and God’s abundant grace, and though beautiful and terrible things will inevitably happen, we are not to fear, because we know the One who spoke things into existence, who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen. Let us pray.
* Music that I was listening to while I wrote this sermon. TobyMac “Move” Hawk Nelson “Drops in the Ocean” “Lord I Need You” Lauren Daigle “Trust In You” Sidewalk Prophets “Prodigal” Ryan Stevenson “The Eye of the Storm” Aaron Shust“Ever Be” Hollyn “Alone”
I LOVE this movie! I saw it in theater and anytime it’s on I have to stop and watch it. Even back when we weren’t even dating, Mike and I saw this on a trip to Nicaragua in Spanish with English subtitles, and we both stopped to watch it. I get caught up in the stories.
I’ve started the 5 days on chemo and three weeks off cycle and I’ve been struggling. I can’t remember ever feeling this bad, then again as soon as I type that, I want to knock on wood.
Something someone said has never been far from my mind, if the trade off Is more years than I would have had otherwise, would I not do anything? As the president’s wife is dying in Independence Day, I tear up every time. Wouldn’t she have chosen to do whatever she has to in order to spend one more afternoon with her child? So I’ll do what I have to do and be grateful that it’s not worse.
I will selfishly ask for prayers as I preach at Gator Wesley tomorrow morning and throughout our leadership team meeting. Thanks for Mike holding down the fort with the kiddos. Thanks for Pam and the new Assistant Directors holding down the fort at the office!
In an hour I go to the hospital for my second brain surgery and it feels super surreal to write that. I wanted to post a quick blog before I go to say thank you to everyone who is praying and who has been supporting us. We can feel your love and the community surrounding us!
I spent this past week with 30+ students from Gator Wesley touring around the state of Florida doing our Spring Tour – singing, dancing, rocking out, reading scripture and so much more. There’s a song that they sing in one of the sets (and I love the mash up that they do) called “Set a Fire” by United Pursuit Band and one of the lines says, “There’s no place I’d rather be…but here in Your love…” I’ve felt that from each of you.
Campus ministry is this crazy special place where things intersect – struggles, fears, hopes, dreams, silly Vine videos, lots of laughter, and experiences that both challenge and inspire. The students this week have inspired the heck out of me. I’ve been ministered to in their music and their passion and their faith, and even more than that in their zest for life! There weren’t many stops during this tour where I didn’t feel moved in some way and though I couldn’t figure out how to share that with them without becoming a blubbering hot mess, I want to let them know how special this week was for me. Even the trampolines. And the cold water of the spring when knocked off a raft.
Two of the songs that they’ve been singing are two favorites of mine that I’ve been holding dear over the past few weeks. They didn’t know that when they picked the songs how much they have been resonating with me and yet again, I know that God is weaving all of this together in mighty ways. The first is Meredith Andrews’ “Not for a Moment.”
And the second is by an amazing band that we hosted here at Gator Wesley called Bellarive. It’s their song, “Taste of Eternity.”
These have been the songs of my heart. Worship taps into a place that breaks down the barriers that we place. It digs in between the walls that we’ve built to protect ourselves and the layers of stress and muck that this world provides. May the scales on our hearts and our eyes be removed that we may see God more clearly and know God more fully, as God draws us to God’s self. I know that no matter what happens today, I know that I am God’s and God is ever in the midst working things together for good.
Y’all have humbled me speechless with all of your texts, facebook messages, tweets, and cards and I hope that each of you feels the love, hugs, fist pumps, and high fives that we have for you! Thanks for being on this journey with me.
So it’s there. A little bit after the parental units, but nonetheless, the anger stage is in the house. I, like most of you, know about the stages of grief and it’s almost worse that I know this and realize this and can clinically say, why of course, Narcie Jeter, what you are experiencing is a quite substantial dose of the anger and sadness stages of grief.
Lord knows why it took me so long and why I went into survival, defuse the situation, and keep bouncing along mode except for the fact that I just really don’t want to deal with this. I really don’t want to think about surgery again. I really don’t want to show the kids the scar from the last time and let them know this is all going to be okay. I really don’t want to feel so freaking ticked off and frustrated and distracted and weepy. Weepy. And not in a nice, cute crying way, but watching old episodes of Dawson’s Creek and crying like a nutcase.
I don’t really know how to make this feeling go away so besides the Dawson’s Creek marathon which is strangely always comforting (nutcase, I told you), I’m trying to blog it out. Maybe if I articulate whatever this is…since I don’t really have a punching bag and I probably shouldn’t throw things against the wall so late at night.
I don’t actually know what I want.
I don’t know if there’s an answer.
I don’t even know if there’s a question.
Things I know: I love my family. I trust God. I know there are many, many people praying. I appreciate that greatly. I love what I do – all of it – silly, serious, and in between. I am tired. I am worried. I am scared. I am loved and cherished by an amazing man who is more than I ever deserve or imagined. I have done this before and I know all will be fine and it’s a great doctor and facility. I can’t decide if this is a big deal or not a big deal or if it’s just normal, which is weird and not quite right. I’m already wondering about the next surgery or what will happen… I have the two silliest, sweetest, most unique and precious and precocious children imaginable and I swing between the hope that they may never know anything about this because I wish I could control things and realizing that this isn’t just my story but our story. I realize that there are a heck of a lot of people dealing with things more awful and challenging and I sometimes feel whiny and weak for even articulating this.
And yet. When I start typing and I stop feeling the waves of anger for a bit and I stop crying along to “I Don’t Wanna Wait” like a sad sack, I know that God is carrying me and holding me each step of the way, which ironically in some ways makes me cry more. And for the record, I’m not writing that as a pastor and I don’t care a hill of beans if anyone reads this, but it’s just good to feel and know that. Even as silly as that may seem to some.
Thanks for being on this journey. Thanks for praying. Even if I don’t always answer the emails, comments, facebooks, fast enough or at all, know that I appreciate them and I read them. They help that “held” feeling when it’s denial, anger, sadness, and yuck city. Love you all. Especially my crazy WNWers that would let me share my Dawson’s obsession. And if any of you reading this make fun of me for my silly, trashy, and immature tv watching….you’re going to get it. (I kid. Mostly.)
***I also realize that I write plenty of run-on, stream of consciousness sentences, and I, nor the English major inside of me, actually cares. So ha!
You know how in different seasons, there are specific words or lessons or visuals that seem to keep popping up in your life? Maybe that doesn’t occur for everyone but for at least for some of us stubborn folks, it’s like God has to drop clues all over the place for us to actually get the picture. The thing that keeps coming up to me right now is this idea and belief in community.
For those of you that read the blog (or at least when I used to write regularly) you know this is something I talk about A LOT. Probably annoyingly so at times. It’s the thing that I’m most passionate about. The thing that I believe is integral to the body of Christ and to any semblance or form of Christian life. You just can’t get around it. But for some reason, in this move and transition which was months ago at this point, I’ve pulled back a little from it. I don’t know if it’s new places, new people, new community building, or the grief and loss or change of old close community, but there’s something that is raw inside me around this concept.
I then start to think about student and campus ministry life and how hard it is to transition in from high school community to college community and then transition from college community to being out in the wide, wide world. I also think about how hard it is to transition from friend groups and single life to married life and professional life and all these in between times and the things that work out and don’t and how so many, random things affect how we view community, who we think are part of our “tribe,” and what we need from community. It’s not all about what we get out of it and it’s not all about what we put into it, but it seems to be this dance of times and places and seasons.
What are the things that hold us back from real community? Not pseudo surface-level stuff, but showing people the cracks and vulnerabilities. I think it’s scary. It’s unnerving. We want to be stronger and more patient and more perfect on the outside than the swirl of gunk on the inside. It gets messy. It takes a lot of time and real sharing. It sometimes makes us feel like we’re on display, left wide open or being dissected. But are these some of the same things that hold us back from fully sharing with God? Or fully sharing from the heart all aspects of our lives?
I know that not everyone is going to get along and gel 100% of the time. I’m not talking about being bff’s with everyone you meet. I’m not even talking about everyone “liking” each other even though I believe we’re all called to love each other and live in community together. I do challenge us to pause and think before we speak. I concede that sometimes our guard has to be let down to create those thin places where God can speak to us. I hope and pray that the world doesn’t see how we fight, bicker and belittle each other, but how we love, support, uphold, and care for one another.
For me, the song that’s been holding me through this season is Phillip Phillips’ “Home.” Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Gator Wesley is doing 24 Hours of Prayer today as part of Holy Week. I’m grateful that students and staff have signed up to intentionally pray for our ministry, community, nation and world and that they are lifting up the importance of the power of prayer. One of the scripture passages that Holly selected for people to meditate on comes from Philippians 1:1-6:
“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make requests for all of your with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
It is a blessing to have fellow travelers on the journey. I’m not just talking about mentors and colleagues but also students, friends, and the broader community of faith. I look through facebook pictures and read statuses of friends and students who are living out what it means to be a disciple and who are living out kingdom work with little to no fan fare, and I feel myself echo the words of Philippians. Every time I think of you, I give thanks to God for you. I may not be the best person in the world at keeping in touch and maintaining connections, but I am grateful and ever embracing the real community that exists when life is shared in times and seasons and when we are connected by our common purpose of sharing the Good News of Christ.
As we walk through this Holy Week, may we remember that we don’t walk this path alone. May we remember the suffering servant that humbly blazed a trail for us with his life, actions, witness, and power this week. And may we continue knowing that God who began a good work within us, will continue this work – with God’s grace, strength, peace, sustenance, and light – until the day of his return.