one of the most important prayer actions that I have ever taken up is the act of being still. I enter into my time of centering prayer, and I become motionless. my mind quiets. thoughts become gentler. my body is given over to God. I open up to whatever God has for me at that moment. Sometimes it is nothingness. and I am still.
Oddly, in my time of motionlessness, sometimes I feel my hands or body shift. they grow larger or smaller in my sense of them. my sensation moves, even when I know that my body is not moving.
While centering, I’m really not supposed to pay much attention to it since even that is something that I turn over to God in my prayer, but it is odd. I probably need to read The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila again, to see if this is what she was trying to describe. I wonder where else my mind can move while my body remains still.
it’s odd, isn’t it, that our contemplative action is usually centered on the idea of stillness being peace. is there peace in movement? we beseech those who are dead to lie in peace, because they have ceased moving. is there a reason that they would not have peace?
we tend to hear peace and stillness in the same intent. but I wonder if they are always suited for each other.
in some times, peace requires movement, action, changes. it is the very act of no one moving that means that peace is nonexistent. moving becomes crucial to survival.
we cannot tell those who are in syria that if they just stay where they are that they will be at peace. there is no peace where they are and they must move.
and we need to move and change in order to help them. we have to shift what we have in order that they can find some peace.
when God moves, I want to move with God.
when I am centering, my body doesn’t move. but my heart continues to pump blood through my veins, my lungs cycle air over and over again, and I am not really still. but I am at peace.
I’m having a hard time seeing the image of God in folks these days. Rather. I’m neglecting to look for it. I’m not really seeing many people, actually. I’m seeing tweets and Facebook updates and news headlines and an amalgamation of what serves as entertainment. These snippets of people, either the best of them or the absolute worst of them (and really, it depends who you talk to as to which is which), are not their full embodiment. There is more to the story. There is more to the narrative. There is more to us than our lies or our successes. There is everything in between.
I’m having a hard time finding the in between.
The in between isn’t very exciting. It’s the part that gets left out of the novel. The only time you see a bathroom in a movie is when the heroine is checking her pregnancy test result. There’s no suspense in vacuuming a house. Cleaning up after dinner is boring.
Even the fun stuff is mundane. I love my daughter’s giggles, but I don’t need to tell you each time she does it. I don’t want to tell you about every time my husband and I have a conversation after which one of us needs to apologize for a hasty word. (usually I need to apologize.)
But it is the in between parts that make us human. I’m not seeing many people in their humanity these days. I also do not feel seen in my own humanity. I don’t participate in a community in which I can be wholly myself, and so I feel pieced together. not whole. Scattered among my various support networks, are pieces of me, parts where I celebrate and exult. but not all of me. Not all at once.
And sure, some of this is because I am finding a new reality in staying at home and taking on the mantle of full-time motherhood. Some of it is because I have been working over the last eight years for the church and towards the church and now I’ve reached a place of not yet. Some of it is utter disgust at the current political climate and the ease at which I can say that those who support the candidate I don’t like are wrong on all points. More than a little bit of it is exactly that.
But I’m worried that I am not seeing the whole person behind someone’s statement. A person, with all their history and narrative and emotions and struggles and difficulties cannot be distilled down into a headline or a tweet.
I need reminders to look for the humanity of those around me. I need reminders to look for the image of God. I know it’s there. Sometimes I refuse to see it because it makes my life easier. But easy is not always holy.
My daughter threw her first tantrum yesterday. She’s one year and five days old. It was a very simple tantrum: I was cutting her nails, and she didn’t like it. She wanted her hand back, she wanted the nail clippers, she wanted to be free. She also very much needed a nap. And so, she cried. This is the first time that I can think of that she has cried for a reason that didn’t have to do with comfort, fear, or hunger.
She was crying because she couldn’t have what she wanted and she would not be consoled. That’s a tantrum. I’m sure she will learn to step up her game in the future, with leg kicking and fist pounding and so forth. This was simply crying to the point of needing to catch her breath. Which, I have to say, it has been a while since she has cried like this. Before, this kind of cry was just in the carseat, because at the beginning, she hated her carseat.
It would have been very easy to give her what she wanted. I could have given her the nail clippers, let her go off with them, and let her play on her own. But, they are nail clippers. They are sharp. They are dangerous. They are not a toy.
They are what she wanted.
I did not give in to her want.
It was not a good thing. To her at least.
I know better than she does. I know where the dangers are.
I could have been soft in setting those boundaries, just this one time, and let her have what she wanted. But what about the next time?
I had to hold this boundary firm, so that I can be soft in other ways.
Because as she cried, I held her. Even as she twisted out of my grip, I let her stand on her own, and held myself open for her. I never let her have the dangerous thing, I didn’t give into her want, but I did offer something better.
This was our first tantrum. It will not be the last.
Because it was the first, I can say that I have done exactly what I wanted every time my daughter has had a tantrum. You can say those kind of things when you’ve only done them once.
There will be tantrums that I give in to. There will be tantrums that I lose my patience. There will be tantrums that I will do the opposite of what I want to do.
I hope to be soft on myself as I learn this parenting gig alongside my daughter. I hope I can show grace to others who are learning as well. I hope that as we learn, we may continue to live into boundaries that allow us to keep our hearts soft towards our children, and those around us.
Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.
We woke up to more wretched, horrible, heartbreaking news today. It’s like the United States decided to go insane after it’s birthday. Were we not just celebrating Independence Day four days ago? And now, there have been deaths upon deaths upon deaths. Each day we wake up to more news of lives stolen.
More fear. More hate. More blame.
We want to point fingers at someone else because then we don’t have to evaluate our own complicity in the evil around us.
“I’d never do anything like that!” “Why can’t they just be peaceful!” “They should have known better!”
I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. I have my host of characters that I want to blame for each of the different violent incidents that happened this week, and I bet you do as well. And we probably don’t agree, which makes it even worse. Because then we can blame each other for blaming the wrong people. And then that becomes the new “talking point” rather than grieving the loss of lives that should not have been taken.
I’m sick. I’m tired. I’m weary.
And I don’t have to worry about most of the things that many of my brothers and sisters in this country have to worry about.
Because you know this is about race. And I’m white. So I don’t have to worry about it as much. I’m allowed to not have to think about what I need to tell my daughter about wearing a hood at night. That’s privilege.
And this morning, we woke up to news of more death in our centuries old story about race and power and hate.
Black people shouldn’t be shot if their tail light is out.
Black people shouldn’t die in prison after not turning on their turn signal.
Police officers shouldn’t be shot while protecting our right to protest.
Police officers shouldn’t die in the line of duty.
But they do. They are. And it’s wrong.
I grieve over all of it. I grieve that I don’t have the right words to say. I don’t know enough and I don’t understand how so much death has happened and we still don’t see any change. Whose death will finally turn the tide?
I’m a Christian, so I believe that we have already had that death. But even that death, and the people who so firmly proclaim that death was defeated, have not been able to make the radical change that is needed so that people. Stop. Dying.
Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.
“God’s Kingdom is Here” Luke 10:1-9 & Matthew 28:18-20Sermon to Williamson’s Chapel UMC on June 12, 2016
(carrying a heavy suitcase up to the chancel area)
Alright, I hope I have everything I need… it sure feels like I’ve packed enough, but one can never be certain. I like to be prepared for anything.
This is the suitcase I took with me to Kenya, and I’ve carried it just about everywhere since. You’d think I’d’ve learned to pack lighter with all that travel experience.
But I never know what I will run into.
So, to be sure, I make sure I have everything that I might need that I can carry. And carry is a relative term.
Especially for the work I do… this ministry thing, I’ve got to have Bibles, and commentaries, and leadership manuals, and devotionals, and prayer resources, and poetry compilations, and novels, and my entire div school seminary library. I’ve got to be ready.
I’m doing God’s Work!
I’m sharing God!
I’ve got to bring God to the people!
There’s something about that, though.
When you’ve traveled, have you ever lost something? or, the ultimate speed bump in travel, have you ever had your bag lost when you arrive somewhere?
Especially when I went to Kenya, I made sure I had every essential in my carry on, because I knew that I couldn’t just pop into the local Wal-Mart or Target if they lost my bag… The local Nakumatt only goes so far.
But in thinking about that, I remembered something from the first night of my most recent trip to Kenya. Our leader, the director of the Umoja Project, the partnership I interned with, Ellen Daniels-Howell, shared a truth with us as we were thinking about our arrival that still makes me stop and think.
What if we had lost our bags? I think in a previous trip she had, and in reflecting on that experience, what if we didn’t have anything we brought with us? Could we still do our work? would we still be able to continue the ministry we were planning to start off on?
It’s easy for us to think that as people doing ministry, that we bring God to the people we are in ministry with.
But God doesn’t work that way.
I don’t need to make sure I have space for God in my suitcase.
I don’t have to make sure that God is on my packing list.
I don’t have to make sure that I’m perfect enough to bring God with me.
Because God is already here.
God is already doing work.
And God will continue to do work after we leave.
That’s the definition of Prevenient Grace: God is already present and at work in the world and in the hearts and minds of everyone around us.
Now. That doesn’t let any of us off the hook.
We still have an enormous amount of work we need to do in order to partner with the work that God is already doing.
The ministry we do helps those who do not know God to see God at work in their lives.
But we don’t carry God with us in our suitcases,God doesn’t wait to show up until we do, and we surely don’t have control over where God can and will work in this world.
And I think Jesus is teaching a similar lesson in our Scripture here today.
Luke 10:1-9 (CEB)
After these things,
the Lord commissioned seventy-two others
and sent them on ahead in pairs
to every city and place he was about to go.
Jesus said to them,
“The harvest is bigger than you can imagine,
but there are few workers.
Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest
to send out workers for his harvest.
Be warned, though,
that I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves.
Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals.
Don’t even greet anyone along the way.
Whenever you enter a house, first say,
‘May peace be on this house.’
If anyone there shares God’s peace,
then your peace will rest on that person.
If not, your blessing will return to you.
Remain in this house,
eating and drinking whatever they set before you,
for workers deserve their pay.
Don’t move from house to house.
Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you,
eat what they set before you.
Heal the sick who are there, and say to them,
‘God’s kingdom has come upon you.’”
Jesus is expanding his ministry, and is sending out messengers who are preparing the fields for the harvest. It makes me wonder what they are doing for this kingdom harvest. Perhaps they are surveying the land or tilling the fields, maybe they are checking water sources or learning the terrain. They are preparing the people to hear the message of God’s kingdom from Jesus.
You’ve probably heard one of the lines of this story before: “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” in songs like Bringing in the Sheaves and Come, Ye Thankful People, Come. God encourages all of us to bear fruit and participate in an abundant harvest.
I am much more interested today in his instructions to his stalwart travelers.
We’ve got a good group of scouts in this church, what is one of the first things that they teach you?
The girl scout in me is very glad that he sends them out in the buddy system. That’s Great. That’s fabulous.
However, as a girl scout I was taught to always BE PREPARED.
Jesus’s instructions here make me incredibly nervous. Go, he says, Empty-handed! Don’t carry anything with you!
And they’re not supposed to bring anything extra!
Not even an extra pair of sandals, even though they will be doing all of this travel on foot!
As someone who has traveled dusty roads all day on foot before, that’s really taking a risk.
Or at least it is if you are still thinking in the way that makes you travel with a bag as heavy as this one.
Jesus is asking them to do something daring.
Because Jesus doesn’t end the instructions there. No, Jesus still has their back and a plan for their livelihood. He shares with them how to do the ministry of the message of God’s Kingdom.
Go, he says. Go, and bring blessings on the house that you enter, saying “May Peace be on this house.” And if the peace is already there, then your peace will be shared.
That gives me chills. If God’s Peace is already there. stay. remain. bless and heal the sick. Basically, do the ministry that I am sending you to do, where God is already at work. Jesus tells the commissioned workers to go with empty hands and full hearts into the work that he is preparing for them.
The commissioned pairs are serving as God’s instruments of peace where God is already at work. It’s incredibly important work, and it is work that they do by partnering with God.
They enter the house with empty hands and do the fulfilling work set before them.
This is also the work we are called to do.
For those of us who are pastors, we are called to do it as our job. But each of us are all called and sent out to carry God’s word to the world.
These are the instructions we received after Jesus rose from the dead in the Great Commission:
Matthew 28:18-20 (CEB)
Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
Jesus says he will be with us—teaching us— leading us out to ALL THE WORLD where God is already at work.
God is active, God is preparing the Kingdom. God has planted and prepared the fields.
The harvest is plentiful. The fruit of God’s kingdom is already here. Our work is to help people get it from the farm to the table.
We don’t have to fit God into our suitcases and bring God with us. God is already here, wherever we are in ministry.
And in my time here at Williamson’s Chapel United Methodist Church, I have seen the presence of God continuously, particularly in the way that you have welcomed me, but also in the way that this church is involved in vibrant and thriving ministry. It is especially through your hospitality that I have seen the way that you have lived out this particular scripture.
And I am more than a little like one of these commissioned disciples. Because I have been welcomed into this house of worship and lived into ministry here, I have experienced God’s peace, and like the commissioned travelers, my time here is short, and I will be leaving soon.
At the end of the month, I’m going to go be at home with Rebekah full time. I’m going to go be her mom. I will be hanging my preachers clothes up in the closet, saving them for later, and go sit in the pews for a little while.
But that doesn’t let me off the hook for doing the ministry of sharing the news of the kingdom of God with those around me.
See, later in the chapter all those who were sent out returned to Jesus, amazed at the work they had done through the power of God. And Jesus said that they were especially blessed because they had seen God actively at work through them.
I have witnessed God’s presence here. I have seen God work through the way that you have loved and cared for me, my husband John, and my daughter, Rebekah.
I have seen God work through the incredible hospitality and generosity that you practice during Share Christmas.
I have seen God work through preparing over Thirty Thousand meals with Stop Hunger Now.
I have seen God work through the dozens of Bible Studies that take place here all throughout the week, and the fantastic music ministry that happens here, and the way that the preschool cares for the little ones, and I could keep on going.
I have seen God’s Kingdom at work here. God’s Kingdom has truly come upon you.
It was here long before I showed up, and it will be here long after I leave.
And so, while my work will no longer be here, God is still working on the Kingdom here, enabling you to change lives and change the world.
We do important work here, but we cannot change the world by remaining between these walls, and only talking about God when we are here.
Don’t get distracted by the amount of work we do here so much so that it keeps us from missing the point of our work.
What we do here prepares us to partner with God at work in the world.
We go out, sharing God’s peace with those we meet, finding the Kingdom of God already at work in the world. We point to God acting in the world.
This last month we had our United Methodist General Conference. You may have heard some of the news out of Portland. The news was not all uplifting.
But there was something that our Kids got to do that was uplifting.
Our Kids created these cards as part of a project from our conference. The delegates were given these cards along with meal tickets to a local mission agency that is active in Portland. The delegates were encouraged to give them to the folks they met on the street, so that those less fortunate should get a good meal and see the church in action.
One of the reserve delegates, Leanne Burris, wrote about an experience she had while she was in town for the conference.
She was sitting at a spot to power her laptop, and a guy walks over and asks if he can charge his phone there too.
They get to talking, and he asks if she knows about the church meeting there. She says she’s part of it, and asks if he goes to church.
“No,” he responds, “Do I look like I go to church?”
“Because going there doesn’t change anything for me. My life still has problems. I asked God to help my problems, but I got worse problems. So, I just do my life. And sometimes I have too much fun you know, and sometimes I get in trouble. But whatever. It’s my life.”
She asks: “So did you expect Got to fix your problems when you prayed?”
He replies: “No, I mean I made those choices. I got to take responsibility for my life, you know. But God don’t make things easier, and it would be harder to try to be all good for God and stuff.”
She says: “What if God just wanted to forgive you and be your friend?”
Again, she says: “What if God just wanted to forgive you and be your friend?
Stunned, he replied, ”I don’t even know what to think about that. Forgive me for what?”
They continued talking about how God can change us, and help us live into the good choices that God wants for us.
And then, he let her pray for him right there. And she asked if she could keep praying for him.
As they parted ways, she gave him one of these cards so that he could go have a warm meal and be where ministry is happening and ready to receive him. And who knows what changes have happened in his life since that conversation a month ago.
Leanne had her eyes open to the Kingdom of God and the opportunity to share good news.
Sometimes the work of the Kingdom of God is across the country, and sometimes it is right next door.
Denise Addington was sharing with us around the same time at Staff Lunch about a recent conversation with one of her new neighbors. (And yes, I have gotten permission to share this story of hers with you.)
There was a couple that they had not gotten to know all that well, and Denise and her husband Scott had just finished work on their deck in the back yard and so they invited the neighbors to come have a conversation and enjoy the new deck.
In that conversation, the husband shares that he is an Atheist. And that’s a bit surprising, if anything, for someone to share in a first conversation. But, I know Denise. and I know that she has such grace and such excitement for the way that God continues to work in her life… That I pray that as Denise and all the Addingtons share God’s blessing and Peace, that their neighbors will see that God is at work in the world, and in their lives.
You are called to Go Out.
Because wherever you go, whatever you do, God is there before you, encouraging you in your work, sharing peace with all who meet you, using your hands and feet to fill and feed the world with the fullness of the Glory of God.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.