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Weeds and Nerf darts

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Do Unto Others

All Saints Day Luke 6:20-31

There are lots of blessings and woes in this passage. And all of them make us a little squirmy. A seminary cohort of mine used to start sentences with “deep down in my icky dark core…”. This is one of those deep down in my icky dark core moments in scripture for me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want those who hate me to be blessed

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want to pray for those who abuse me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want to think about the fact that I might be counted among the “rich” of this world, even in the times I struggle to make ends meet.

Deep down in my icky dark core I crave the approval of people, I need everyone to speak well of me, even when I know my call should cause people to feel a little uncomfortable and to even disagree with me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

But the Good News is it isn’t about me. Its never about me. Its about God, and I’m not God, and praise be for that! I need to remember that my sinful self regularly needs grace and forgiveness, and to be reminded, even with scripture that hits my icky dark core that others need grace and forgiveness too.

So I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep trying to honor the parts of scripture that hit my sinful self hard, to honor others as images of God, and to do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

Remember Our Sins No More

This week the Old Testament reading for the Lectionary Text comes from Jeremiah 31:31-34, for Reformation Sunday. I love Reformation Sunday. It gives me a reason to wear my Pentecost pants a 2nd time (a habit I picked up from my childhood pastor, although to be honest, not sure where those pants are since I’ve moved, so I guess it’ll just be Pentecost/Reformation Chacos)

As Lutherans we talk about the Law and the Gospel a lot. A. Lot. We’ve often err on the side of writing off the Old Testament reading some Sundays as irrelevant because of the Gospel, but I love this one.

I love it because God is making promises to God’s people. The people who continue to screw up. The people who can’t quite seem to get it right. The people who fail. Sound familiar?

God not only promises to “forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more”. Remember our sins no more. Think about the magnitude of that statement.

We can forgive sin, we know we aren’t perfect and we all sin, and we are supposed to forgive each other, but can we forget each other’s sin? Sometimes I think that’s hard for us as humans, because we can choose to forgive, but we often can’t help remembering. Maybe it has something to do with our survival instincts. We remember what hurt us so we can try to avoid it and not be hurt again.

Then I think about the people I’m closest to. My family, friends from childhood, people I’ve walked through Hell with. Those people have hurt me. I’m sure they’ve hurt me more times than I can count. But I’m not sure I remember all of those times, because we choose love. We choose relationship.

That’s what’s so exciting about this Old Testament reading. God chooses God’s people. The people don’t choose God. That would be too easy and too fleeting. But God chooses us, and God (with Her infinite memory) chooses to remember our sins no more.

That sounds an awful lot like Good News.

Peace be with you.

Love is…

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 2nd Reading 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind…

Flash back to any weddings yet? I think sometimes those of us who work in churches roll our eyes at how often this passage gets used in wedding ceremonies, valentines day social media posts, and everywhere surrounding romantic love.

But Paul isn’t talking about romantic love. There’s a word for romantic love in Greek, and that word is eros. Here Paul is talking about agape love. Agape is the love that God has for us, and that we have for God. Its not bound by attraction or mutual affection. Agape is the kind of love that is unconditional, that we can’t earn or deserve, but is freely offered.

Sometimes I see all of the things listed in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians and I think “yeah, that sounds great, but is love really like that? Are we capable of that?”

I truly believe we are. We catch glimpses of Agape love between people all the time, we just need to be paying attention. I asked some social media pals what they think Agape love is, you’ll find some of their answers below, mixed in with my own musings.

Love is…

When someone stops to help a stranger change a tire, knowing it will be an inconvenience.

Listening.

Showing up week after week to teach Sunday school when you’ve had it up to your neck, because kids deserve someone who loves them.

Selfless

Doing the dishes, and not bragging about it.

Opening every cabinet door in the fellowship hall kitchen with a 2nd grader, because he needs to do that with you instead of sitting in children’s church.

Being present.

Choosing a career that serves others, over the ever driving appeal of wealth.

Giving of oneself.

Not abandoning a teenager who has done everything to push you away.

Sacrificial

Sitting at someones bedside, even if they no longer know you are there, or who you are.

Always looking for the good.

Telling your spouse they will go to every inter-generational event at church because those kids are going to know you love them gosh darn it.

The way. The way of God because God is love. If it’s not agape love, it’s not of God.

Ultimately, love is hard. Its hard because we are human, and we are sinners. We mess up, we make each other mad, we hurt feelings, and we break relationships. But luckily, that love that is of God is the way. Its the way back to restoration, the way back to wholeness, the way back to Shalom.

The greatest of these is Love my friends, the greatest of these is Love.

Great Gifts

2nd Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

“Now there are a variety of gifts but the same Spirit” – 1 Corinthians 12:4

What is the greatest gift you’ve ever been given? And I’m not talking about any of those noble answers like, the love of my child, or my amazing spouse… save it. When I say greatest gift, what comes to mind?

(Just to be clear, the love of my children and my spouse are both amazing gifts, but that’s just not what we are talking about right now)

I am an only child, and holidays were not a huge deal at our house, so I know I got great gifts as a kid, but I’m not sure I remember a lot of them. Although there was this one year when my mom wrapped up figure skates that I had been wearing for a few months, because those suckers were expensive, and when she said they were my Christmas present, she meant it!

One Christmas when my oldest child was about 5 and his brother was just a baby we were visiting family, and my oldest’s Godfather came over with presents. If ever there was someone who’s love language was gift giving, it would be his. Everyone got great gifts, and I got a laptop. It was such a huge deal for me, because it wasn’t something I would have been able to get for myself, and was something I really needed.

That’s sort of what its like with our Spiritual gifts right? Oftentimes we feel like our spiritual gifts probably don’t matter that much, like the time we got socks when we really hoped we were getting that new bike. But we needed those socks, and people around you need your spiritual gifts. Sometimes your spiritual gifts will be like my Christmas computer, big and bold and desperately needed. Other times your Spiritual gifts might seem more like socks, needed but not necessarily noticed.

But your gifts are unique to you. Even if you and another person both have the gift of hospitality, you are uniquely created and your gift will look different than theirs. That’s the beautiful thing about spiritual gifts, all of them are needed within the church, and outside its walls. Someone is waiting for your gifts to be used, for you to welcome them, talk to them, sing with them, or just sit with them. So take some time to think about what your gifts might be, and how you can best use them to serve your church and the world!

For more information on Spiritual Gifts (definitions, quizzes etc) check out these links:

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/spiritual-gifts-online-assessment

https://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Congregations-and-Synods/Faith-Practices/Spiritual-Renewal/Assessment-Tools

Sisterhood

4th Sunday in Advent Year C

Luke 1:39-45

Mary and Elizabeth. Two women who played major roles in history no one could have prepared them for. One would bear a prophet who would herald the coming of the Messiah, and the other would be the mother of that Messiah.

Talk about your big ask. Both of these women would not only become mothers to sons (a very important job in their time), but their sons would hold occupations that did not necessarily bring honor to their families, and both would die pretty horrible deaths. Now, we don’t know if Elizabeth outlived John, but we know Mary was present at Jesus’ crucifixion.

Both women, tasked with huge roles, didn’t ask for them. Elizabeth desperately wanted a child, but I imagine she might have chosen a different life for him. Weather Mary was ready or not, she was to be a mother in a way she didn’t plan either. So where does she go? With haste, she heads to Elizabeth’s house.

Sometimes we need the sisterhood of believers. Women have often existed in the shadows of religious life, and even as more and more serve in leadership roles, we often are not intentional about seeking out those female relationships. Even when we do, (as can be the case in some larger churches) we pigeonhole ourselves into age specific groups of females.

We need Elizabeths. We need women who have gone before us, with struggles, and joys and sorrows to share. We need stories of how they’ve seen God so we can better see God ourselves.

And Elizabeths need Marys too. They need to rejoice in new life, and protect those who come after them. They need to be reminded of who they have been and how much they are needed now.

So enter into the sisterhood of believers and may your soul magnify the Lord!

People Pleasers

Baptism of the Lord

Luke 3:15-17,21-22

“You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

I’ve always been a people pleaser, especially people in authority. I wanted my teachers, coaches, pastors, anyone in charge really, to be happy with me. If I’m being honest though, it wasn’t just wanting people to be happy with me, it was for them to like me best. I needed to be better than other people, I needed to be the favorite. (If you get a copy of the Linganore High School yearbook from 2001 you’ll find my picture next to the title of Teacher’s Pet, and yes I am appropriately mortified about that now)

Perhaps that desire to please others, stems from a real desire to please God. And since we don’t generally get to hear the voice that Jesus hears at his baptism “with you I am well pleased”. We don’t always know if what we are doing is pleasing to God.

Or do we? I think we have a pretty good idea of what pleases God. We know Jesus tells his disciples that the greatest we can do is to love God and love others, so if what we are doing is truly loving God, and truly loving others, and not our own self interest, its probably pleasing to God.

There are countless examples in scripture of things that people over the centuries have found to be pleasing to God, from offerings and prayers, to fighting for justice for the marginalized. We don’t have to look hard to find what pleases God, when we shine the light of Christ to others, God is well pleased.

I pray that you can continue to live in the light of Christ, and remember that people are flawed, and that even in all of our brokenness we are pleasing to God. That’s the mystery of Grace, that God loves us in the midst of our flaws. We don’t follow Jesus because it saves us, we follow out of the joy of salvation. And with that, God is well pleased.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Epiphany of the Lord

Matthew 2:1-12

Its that time. The time when people tend to pack away their trees, and put up the magic of Christmas. But what if we turned that around, and realized that the real “magic” started this Sunday, on Epiphany?!

The Magi (sometimes also translated as the Kings or the Wise men) are some mysterious figures in scripture. We figure they were probably astrologers, the scientists of the time who studied the heavens and were well respected for their knowledge. They saw a sign in the heavens and went in search of this holy baby, signaled by the star in the sky.

What faith it must have taken to go on that journey. To head off in search of something, not knowing what they would find. To be people of science, heading off on a journey of faith.

We are now people of science. We believe in the scientific method, we teach our kids to think critically, and God gave us these abilities to be used to their fullest potential, just as God set stars in the sky for the Magi to study. But even people of science need a little magic.

We need to remember that there are things out there beyond our understanding. That God is bigger than all of our scientific method, and that we don’t have to have it all figured out. God gives us a different star to follow on our faith journeys, and our light is Jesus.

We get to step out in faith, following the light of Christ even though we don’t know where the journey will take us. We will meet Herods, who want us to do things we aren’t comfortable with, and we will change course. Sometimes we will catch glimpses of the glory of God, and like the Magi, we will have no choice but to kneel in worship of the God that lights our paths.

Here’s to the Magic of Epiphany. May it live with you as you continue to journey on.

Rejoicing Always

3rd Sunday in Advent

Philippians 4:4-7

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”

What does it look like to Rejoice in the Lord always? Does it mean being happy all the time? Does it mean ignoring the bad things in the world, turning a blind eye to suffering and misery, and pretend its not there? Sometimes it feels like that would be nice. To just live in the happy times, and to rejoice in all that God has given us.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the theme of Rejoicing in the Lord runs throughout the lines. One can assume that the circumstances in Philippi were less than desirable. Paul warns about behavior during times of conflict, both internal and external. He is trying to get the early followers to understand that their joy is in God not in their circumstances. 

God’s desire to return the world to a place of wholeness, or Shalom, is the reason God calls us to a broken world. We live in the middle of the brokenness, but we serve a God who is not broken. In fact, we serve a risen Lord who conquered death and rose again. We know we are called to restore the brokenness around us, and we get to rejoice in the promises of the resurrection.

Restoring the broken, living in the promise. That’s something to rejoice about. 

Fishing For People

3rd Sunday After Epiphany Mark 1:14-20

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people” -Mark 1:17

This week has been rough. My very dear friend passed away on Saturday after her battle with cancer. I met Lauren when I moved to Covington TN in 2013 for my placement at a church where I would serve as the youth minister while in seminary. Lauren was in the next town south of me and was so excited to have another female youth minister and seminarian that she showed up the very first day to help me move my furniture. From that point on we were together.

We got mistaken for sisters a lot, which was fun for us two only children. We shared a love of Mexican food, Chacos, coffee and youth ministry. The closest Starbucks was 25 minutes away from my house, and Lauren was conveniently on the way, so once, or twice, or many times a week I would pick her up and we would ride down to properly caffeinate ourselves before beginning our day. Even though both of us would “pre-game” (her term) with our own coffee at home.

We took joint mission trips with our youth groups, had combined youth group once a month, and generally shared a love of ministry together that was unparalleled. She would joke that we should go work for a church together where I could be in charge of games and lessons and she could do what she loved, be the master organizer of all things.

So what does this have to do with fishing for people? There was no better fisher in the world. Lauren reached into your soul and pulled you into her world, which was full of a deep love for Jesus. When she got her hook in you she didn’t let go, and you never wanted her to. My boys called her “aunt Lauren” as did many other kids in her sphere of influence.

She cast a wide net in her youth ministry, and her kids loved her fiercely. She caught sports stars, singers, instrumentalists, and kids who might have never felt at home anywhere, but they had a home with Lauren.

What I learned from Lauren would fill volumes, but for now, I’ll just say, go fishing. Catch people and tell them about the love of Jesus, maybe you go to church together, or maybe you just go out for tacos. Either way, be like Lauren, reel ’em in and never let go.

IMG_20150822_105639.jpg
Aunt Lauren and AJ at Build a Bear for his 11th birthday.

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