New Starter

The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. —Exodus 12:33-34 (NIV)

I’ve read the story of the Exodus at least once a year since I got my own bible in third grade. I’ve read about the Ten Plagues and the Israelites leaving after the Angel of Death visiting each home of the Egyptians while the Israelites were saved because they had the special marks on their doorways. I’d read about the feast of unleavened bread and not having yeast in their homes for a week.

This week, reading it again I noticed the people of Israel having to pack up in the middle of the night and carry their bread wrapped up in their cloaks before the bread could rise, possibly before the yeast could be added.

Yeast is a living thing that feeds on sugar and makes air bubbles. Yeast in the time of the Israelites was probably a small jug of starter that was kept alive and added to bread a little at a time, with little bits of extra added back to the jug every so often to keep it healthy.

Bread is a basic necessity, and so yeast is as well.

Imagine a people who leave in the middle of the night, carrying only what they can on their backs. These people are headed out into the desert where they will wander for forty years to learn who and whose they are.

They have left their starter yeast behind because they are going out to start a new life. 

This new life will be different down to the bread they bake. It won’t taste like the bread of Egypt because they won’t have any of Egypt’s yeast to put in their loaves. Even this incremental change will be hard to take, and they will complain about not having bread. God will provide them with bread that is sweeter than what they have ever tasted. And soon enough they will tire of that as well.

But they will learn to make new bread in a new land. They will start a new home in the land that is promised to them. And they will gather a bit of yeast from a neighbor and create a new starter jug for the bread that will sustain them through their lives.

They will become a new people. Little by little. Even down to their bread.

Red Sea Prayer of Confession

Delivering God,

When we look at the wilderness around us

      and the turbulent waters before us

      we see danger and destruction.

We recognize the call of the Israelites

      as we desire the familiar

      rather than the unknown.

You call us forward on a path that we cannot see.

Cleanse us from the mud of our sins

      as we journey through the waters.

Shield us from distractions that pull us

      away from your path of dry ground.

Be the pillar of cloud and fire that protects us.

Soften out hearts to trust in you.

As we walk through your grace

      lead us into your way of life. Amen.

 

For those who are looking for last minute confessional liturgy for Exodus 15, the story of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea (or Reed Sea, if you are a hebrew linguist).

Jubilee

Jubilee. It’s an old word from ancient Hebrew, from the Levitical laws given to Moses by God. It is a unique time. It is a time of celebration, rest, and festival. It is the time when the wealth of Israel is redistributed out to the historic boundaries, so that families who had it rough at some point in the previous fifty years will no longer be scraping by on what little they can scrounge from what they have left. Instead, as boundary markers are used, the historic land returns to the family, so that everyone can start fresh again. You can find the account in Leviticus 25.

It is a radical idea, from our radical God. This celebration of Jubilee shows how God desires for people to have access to what they need to survive. This law declares that land is important and that God has a say in how we share and use our land. It encourages us to be good stewards and managers of the land that we have, so that we are able to care for it and keep it for our children and our children’s children.

Jubilee is when everyone rests. The land rests. Immigrants and refugees rest. Families find each other and celebrate life. Jubilee is when worship happens, when no one is distracted by how they need to get back to the field and scrape another day’s worth of food from the edges. Jubilee is when worship and celebration overtakes the entire community and all energy is delivered to praising God.

Scholars do not know if the formal Jubilee was ever actually celebrated. It may have been part of the narrative of the Israelites, but it may not have changed the way that they lived and cared for those around them.

I wonder how often we have been given such a great idea by God, and we all think, “sure, that’d be great, but it is impossible.” God is the God of the impossible, and we will be surprised when we trust enough to enter into the impossible with God.

I don’t have much of any land these days, but I wonder how else we can celebrate Jubilee. I wonder how a Jubilee Sabbath would change me, and restore me to what God desires for me. I wonder that for all of us. I wonder how much our lives would be changed if we created a time for us to be truly at rest, and truly in a festival celebration.

Choosing to Sit and Listen

This was the sermon I preached on Sunday. The scripture text is Luke 10.
I have the gift of hospitality. I can plan a meal or a party or a celebration, and I will have all the pieces together.

I like putting all the pieces together.
Sometimes I have dreams of Pintrest perfect Martha Stewart crafted scenes. It would be wonderful. It would be gorgeous.
The perfect ideal of southern hospitality:
The house cleaned from top to bottom, to a white glove finish.
Generous portions of sweet iced tea, and coffee for when it is cold.
Enough desserts that everyone can have their favorite, including one with fruit and one with chocolate.
Enough chairs out and ready, and places for everyone to rest their drinks.
Candles lit in every room where there will be guests, and some where guests may only wander.

And, if it is possible, all these things ready in enough time that the host and hostess are clean, fresh, and ready to relax with the guests, so that it seemed like no effort whatsoever.

Perfection.
Yeah right.

I mean, that’s the thing with an ideal. It is practically unachievable. And honestly, I don’t want it.

It is impossible.

I know I don’t have kids yet, and so I know I will lose control there, but already, with both my husband and I working full time, we just don’t have the time to keep our home perfect.
It is not in our priorities.

I invited some clergy friends over to celebrate my birthday recently, and I thought about having a perfect house and having all the sushi and soup and cake ready and such. But more than a perfect house, I wanted to be hospitable.

And as I had been preparing that week I found where someone had written about not being perfect.

The title: If I am Dust, No Wonder it is all over my floor.
Megan wrote about her home, and how she watches commercials where the floor gleams. Where everyone is bright and cheery and happy.

Have y’all seen the Cheer commercial where the kid’s clothes are so bright he always looses at Hide-and-seek?

Perfection is paraded around our world like it is the only thing we should work for.

Is that the best we can come up with?

Gleaming countertops?

I think we can do better than that.

And it’s not just in our main household chores: our work is the same.

First to arrive at the office and last to leave.

Extra nights and weekends so that everyone can be happy.

Precision and details are necessary, especially in
Grading the soil and maintaining the pipes for our water and such.
Those who work in Doctors offices and hospitals.
Watching the food we prepare making sure it is not contaminated.

But there is more to our call as Christians than getting as close to perfect in our worlds as possible.

We are called to something better.

Martha in our story usually gets a bad rap.

She invited Jesus in, she welcomed him into her home, and we see this part of her, and then we just hear her shrill voice from the kitchen cry out,
“Come help me! Make her come help me!”

Martha is not doing wrong by being hospitable or welcoming.

She is distracted and taken away from the purer work because of all her worrying, fretting, and being upset at the work she is doing.

In this story, when Martha stops being the host, she becomes the worrier.
And as the worrier, she forgets her hospitality and involves her guest in her distraction.

She misses that there is teaching going on.

The work she was doing was important. She was preparing food for a bunch of folks, for her guests, for her friends!

I know how she feels. In April I hosted a dozen friends around the table in my home. And I don’t have a huge home.

Preparing a meal for guests, whether it is sushi or a barbecue, is a big deal!

But Martha has forgotten that the person who is at her home is there not only to receive a day’s end meal, but to provide nourishment for their souls.

And so when she asks her guest to tell her sister to get up and help her, she forgets, even though she calls him Lord, that he is Jesus.

In the church we can have a tendency to forget why we are doing all our work.

Meetings can feel like meetings for the sake of meeting.
We can caught up in the sign-up sheets,
and the deliveries of gifts and extra produce
and when the next service opportunity is
and all the details of what is left to do,
and who can fill the shoes.

And we can forget why we are doing what we are doing.

We can burn out.

If the work we do as Christians is only for the sake of the task, the work will become onerous, and tiresome, tedious, irritating, dull, and boring.

That is not the ministry and service to which we are called.

Remember last week, we talked about the Samaritan who saw the man who needed help, and who took the time to go and do and care for the man who needed help? Remember that the Samaritan acted as a neighbor?

The other part of the commandment is to love God.

Part of Loving God is through serving and caring for our neighbors around us.

Service is not bad on its own. Jesus calls us to service. But service for service’s sake is not what we are called to.

The other part of loving God. It is about spending time in God’s Presence.

It’s about not getting distracted. Our distractions and worries draw us away from focus on God.

We instead are called and invited to listen to God and the Word of Jesus.

It is about sitting at God’s feet and receiving the sustenance that comes from the presence of God.
Sitting at the feet of Jesus.

When we sit at the feet of Jesus, we are open to receiving the love and compassion that comes from God.

Mary chose the better part.

She was in the place where disciples sat, learning from Jesus, receiving his message, and sharing in his Grace.

There are many ways that you can sit at the feet of Jesus.

I center in the mornings, I spend time in the morning to place myself in God’s presence and receive him. I have no agenda but to remain open to God.

John and I have a practice of Sabbath.

We take one day a week, Usually Fridays, and spend it in time together and in celebration of what God has given us.

I encourage you to consider a time of Sabbath.
It could be an extension of Sunday’s worship,
Or a few hours, set aside intentionally to be time when God is the priority.

There are other ways to sit at the feet of Jesus:

Reading scripture.
There are many daily reading plans that can take you through the entire bible in a year. Mine is on my Bible App, but there are published bibles that provide the same plan.

Developing a prayer journal, especially one where you keep track of prayer request and praises. It can be amazing how God answers prayers.

Sharing a meal together with others, especially those that you might not normally know. Maybe there is a family that lives across from you that you haven’t gotten to know as well as you like? It might not be as possible here, but I am ready to be surprised.

In Love, God is calling you to come and receive the sustenance that comes from a deep dwelling with Jesus.

What will you chose?

Grace in Weakness

Christ says: “My grace is enough for you, because [my] power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 CEB

Recently, I have been more weak than I would like. I suffer from migraines, which means I am a Migraineur. About a year ago they began hitting me. I have more help now and medications that can quell the pain for a while. However, with all the help, it seems that they are not letting go so easily.

I don’t want to take on this identity. I don’t want one of my identifying characteristics to be that pastor with the migraines. I am praying that this is only a season in my life, and that soon we will be able to find something that breaks the cycle of pain and brings me relief. In the meantime, life goes on.

I spent a wonderful day with the children in my church this past Tuesday, it was a day outside with rides and sunshine and laughter. And then next day I paid the price with my head. It is like I had a “fun hangover.” I’ve had days where I pushed my body physically, in running and other strength and endurance training, but I wasn’t sore the next day, I just hurt.

I’d rather be sore. When I am sore I can feel in my body that I did good work. When I am sore I can feel how hard I pushed myself and know that I came out the other side.

When I am migraining, my world shrinks. It becomes an effort to get dressed. Food becomes optional, even when I can feel my stomach growl. It hurts to move, to walk, sometimes to merely open my eyes. Sometimes it hurts to lay on my back in bed. It feels like the world is more cruel when I have a migraine.

But the world isn’t more cruel. I am still a pastor in those times. Sometimes I am called up and out and into the world, even when my perspective is clouded in pain.

When Paul writes to the Corinthians, he mentions a thorn in his body that he begged God to take away from him. I think there is grace in that. I think there is grace that we don’t know what the thorn was. We don’t know why Paul claims weakness, and so we can claim weakness along with him.

I have always had something wrong with my body. Growing up it was my foot. Last year I had that fixed with surgery; I had to heal from that. Now that my foot is healed, resplendent in scars, I’ve got headaches to deal with. I’m still weak.

Paul says that his weakness is so that his message remains strong, and he doesn’t get conceited. Like Paul, I prayed that I would be healed, that my foot would miraculous become not bent. Now I pray that I wouldn’t succumb to my Migraines. My prayer has changed, slightly. I don’t always pray that my migraines would be taken away, but I pray that they would lessen, and that I would be able to continue ministry in the midst of them. I pray that my ministry would continue in spite of them. I pray that the ministry that I have undertaken because of God’s call on my life would be made stronger, even though I am weak. I pray that Christ would shine through my weakness. I pray that Christ’s strength would be displayed, possibly even because of my weakness.

I haven’t gotten to the point of bragging about my migraines yet. I would like to not be stuck in a hurricane of pain every week. But I am blessed that grace is sufficient in this place for my weakness. I am grateful that grace has been extended to me, and that I am able to extend grace to others, even when I am in pain. That’s only because of Christ.

Any grace I extend is because of Christ’s work in my life. Especially the grace that I give out on days when my world is clouded in pain, that is grace working through me. My immediate instinct might be to snap, to jab, to strike, but Christ works in me, in the midst of my pain, to allow me to offer grace to those around me.

That is why I continue in ministry, and why I feel called to continue. The pain of this world may never end, but I look forward to the time when I will no longer hunger, thirst, or be in pain. I look forward to singing with all the saints, and celebrating that God’s grace was enough for me.