Monthly Archives: March 2015

One Dangerous Parade

A sermon for 29 March 2015 – Palm Sunday

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!
RevJule
______________________

Click here to read scripture first:  http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/mark/passage/?q=mark+11:1-19

Everyone loves a parade, right? At least I hope that’s how each of you felt about our little march around the sanctuary during our first hymn this morning. I know it’s not easy to hold a hymnal, wave a palm branch, sing, and walk around without bumping into the person in front of you – or worse yet, an empty pew! But you gave it a try, so good job! . . . Parades. All the pageantry. The excitement. The drama. Sometimes parades include special costumes and certain music. Customs particular to that culture – like the annual Holland Fest parade back home in Wisconsin when in Dutch attire folks get out to scrub the streets at the front end of the parade – making way for all the fun yet to come. Do you remember as a kid how fun it was to be at parades when they threw candy and other treats out to the crowds? Sometimes it was more fun to be in the parade tossing things out and watching all the excited little children scramble for whatever they could find. I hope you’ve had such fun at parades! . . . A few of you have mentioned parades you’ve witnessed and parades you’ve been in. Mardi Gras in New Orleans – that’s all I’m going to say about that. . . . The parade of a long line of civil servants when one of their own has fallen. Marches for one cause or another that mean the world to you. Even cars trailing behind a hearse as you make your way to your beloved’s grave. All are sorts of parades.

In the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in a few different kinds of parades. Two were last week at my continuing education class at Kanuga in North Carolina. I was there for the first intensive week of Spiritual Direction Training and the formal lectures of the class were about Celtic Christian Spirituality, with its particular love of the land and attention to nature. On the eve of the Spring Equinox, March 21, we all were invited to celebrate the beginning of this new season of re-birth after the long, dark, waiting of winter. All 70some of us got in line behind one another to silently walk a labyrinth – that ancient tool for meditative prayer where step by step we go into the center as we seek to shed that which keeps us from faithful discipleship. At the center we stand open to illumination from God until again, step by step, we make our way back out of the labyrinth to live in union with God’s will for the world. . . . There we were: on the eve of the re-birth of our whole world in a parade into and out of a labyrinth to let go of whatever winter we’ve experienced in our lives and open ourselves to the new beginnings God is bringing to life in us all. The morning after that, we found ourselves again in a long line behind one another. Our morning meditation was an invitation to walk in silence outside like that – one after the other – listening to the sounds of God’s beautiful creation; listening for whatever message of harmony God had for each of us that morning. Listening, as we literally paraded one after another, listening for the wisdom of all the saints. For in that line it was as if we were walking behind them – learning from those who had gone before how we can be faithful today. . . . They were two pretty amazing parades.

I heard of another kind of parade the weekend prior when I went to go scout out the sisters at Sacred Heart Monastery which will be the site of an overnight worship field trip in June for any church member or friend who would like to attend. In meeting with one of the sisters there that weekend, she shared a bit about her work in the early 1980s. She had been off at another monastery trying to find herself when she received word she was to come back home to Sacred Heart. Their diocese was receiving about two dozen overseas refugees and the sister was to come back to organize ministry with them. Somewhere around her fifth fairly-sheltered decade in this world, her work with those refugees brought her face to face with a parade of the Ku Klux Klan. A long line of bitterness that would not see the image of God in the face of all others. It’s the kind of parade that runs shivers up and down our spines just to think about it.

Parades.

The biblical account doesn’t record them both, but history verifies that two parades were taking place that day Jesus was entering the city. From the west, in came Pontius Pilate. One commentator describes the scene of that parade well. He writes: “When the governor Pilate comes into Jerusalem, he enters the city from the west with an excessive show of military pomp and circumstance” (Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, 2014, Wolfgang H. Stahlberg, p. 338). Supposedly Pilate didn’t like being in Jerusalem with their provincial ways and religious fervor. But Rome required he be there for all three of the annual Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem – especially for this one at Passover, when the people of God gathered to celebrate God’s historic liberation of them from the cruel, unjust experience of domination by Egypt. As the local agent of Rome, Pilate had to be present for Passover in Jerusalem to ensure those Jews didn’t get any funny ideas again about throwing off the chains of foreign occupation. So: in parades Pilate with an impressive cavalry and foot soldiers all around. Clip-clop go the sounds of hundreds of horseshoes with military commands and drum beats to keep everyone in step. The commentator writes: “Pilate represents the emperor himself, the ‘son of god,’ ‘lord of all,’ and ‘savior of the world.’ His entry into Jerusalem is clearly a demonstration of the ever-present Roman power” (Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, 2014, Wolfgang H. Stahlberg, p. 338, 340).

And then, from the East. He had traveled the five days’ walk from the Galilee with his faithful disciples. They might have thought they just were going into Jerusalem as they were to do three times every year for the annual Jewish pilgrimages of Passover, Shavuot (or Weeks), and Sukkot (of the Festival of Tents or Booths). They all knew what was happening on the other side of the city. Jesus and his followers were faithful Jews. How often had they seen or at least heard the pomp and circumstance of Rome’s figurehead? If they were attuned at all to what Jesus had been saying – three times now – they might not have been celebrating as much as they ended up doing. Something in the way the gospel of Mark tells this story gives us a clue into their hopes. As Jesus makes his own parade into town down that steep, curvy path from the Mount of Olives right through the city gate unto the Temple mount, Mark records that “those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’” (Mark 11:9-10). Ooohhh! Shivers, shivers, shivers should be running up and down our spines as we hear these shouts. For hosanna: the literally translation being: help now or save us now?! (Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, 2014, Shively T.J. Smith, p. 341). These folks are crying out for the long-awaited ancestor of their great King David to establish the unified throne in Jerusalem once again. At least that seems clear from the way the gospel of Mark records the scene, what with their shouts of blessing for the coming kingdom of their ancestor David and their save us. Save us now! . . . It’s a very dangerous parade to hail the one entering from the opposite side of the city – the one parading not in all the pomp and circumstance of immense military might. But the one humbly accepting his path of self-giving love for the life of all the world.

It begs the question: which parade will we follow? Which parade do we follow? . . . His is going to lead to a cross first because the powers of this world won’t easily be outdone. They’ll hang him up and expect it all to be over, this talk of unity and grace and catching the glimmer of God in every God-created and God-cherished human being. They’re hoping for an end to people coming together to live lives that give glory not to the emperor but to our Divine Creator. The powers of this world thought they could do away with any sort of hope in lives of freedom to be precious temples of the Holy Spirit who follow the very same pattern of giving of self for the good and benefit of another. They thought on that cross they’d snuffed Love out so that you and I would fall in line behind them. Join their parade of control through fear and might and addiction to more. . . . It’s a dangerous parade this Jesus makes on his way to revealing the One LORD in full. . . . From that young colt, with a smile on his lips and a glimmer in his eye, he whispers to us all: “Come. Get in line. Won’t you follow me?”

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

For What Would You Give Your Life?

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!
RevJule
______________________

A sermon for 15 March 2015 – 4th Sunday during Lent

John 3:14-21  (text included below)

Before I read from one of the most famous parts of the bible, what with it being plastered all over signs at football games and thrown around as if everyone knows what this “God so loved the world” verse is all about. I want us to set aside everything else we know and love about that verse. I intentionally tried to do that this week as I prepared for this sermon and I invite you to do so now as well. Firstly because we’re Presbyterians. As Christians of the Reformed Theological Family of Faith, we sometimes get pulled off by the rest of the Bible Belt here in Tennessee. So many people around us get stuck in Christianity that’s hyper-focused on who’s going where at the end of it all. I saw a huge billboard in Alabama this weekend shouting it out. As if that’s all that really matters. Always waiting to get somewhere better instead of being present to where we find our feet each day – like Jesus was totally present to whoever crossed his path each day. As those in the Reformed Theological Family of Faith, we don’t need to worry about eternity. We believe God is sovereign and already has that all worked out according to the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t have to waste one more ounce of mental energy on our future. The Reformed tenets of faith talk about being saved from and saved for something here and now. All that being the case, we can dive a little bit deeper into texts like this one that too many have left to be just about eternity. It’s not that we have to give up any ideas we get about God, ourselves, and the afterlife from John 3; it’s just that as Reformed Theological Christians saved for a particular purpose in this world, I think we need to open ourselves to any other word God’s Spirit might be trying to speak to our lives today. So just for a moment, see if you can forget what we’ve always thought this was all about and listen. Wonder. Let God speak to us afresh today.

A reading from the gospel of John 3:14-21. Remember that this is only the second half of what Jesus is recorded as having said to a leader of Israel, Nicodemus, who steals away at night to see if he can’t figure out more about this Rabbi who is performing remarkable signs among the people. It’s John chapter 3 so it’s near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry according to the gospel of John, which is the only gospel that starts Jesus off with a big bang when his mother pushes him to turn over a hundred some gallons of water into a hundred some gallons of the finest wine at a wedding feast in Cana. From the start, the gospel of John frames the ministry of Jesus as one of abundance. The long-awaited feast of the wedding of the bride, which most any Jew should have heard as Israel, and the bridegroom, which most any Jew should have heard as God. The feast the prophets foretold has begun! . . . With all this in mind, listen: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (NRSV)  This is the word of God, for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

By a unique turn of events this week, my path crossed ways with that of a young man. He couldn’t have been much older than twenty. I’d seen him before but never really talked with him. You know those people who have that magical twinkle in their eyes? That little sliver of joy and laughter and fun? Well, this boy had none of that. His eyes looked kinda like those of zombies, vacant. Plodding through life, with an aura of emptiness. Just to be friendly, I said I hoped things have been going well for him. Caught a bit off guard, he muttered, “Well no. They really haven’t been.” “O no!” I exclaimed. Sorry to hear that, not just because of whatever he might be going through but also because I felt an unexpected pastoral care session coming on and in all honesty, I really didn’t have the energy for it in that moment. Why I continued to speak – as some of you have experienced of me before, like why did that just have to pop right out of my mouth before my brain had time to catch up with my lips? Anyway, I found myself asking him what’s been going on. He didn’t give me much – just an evasive comment about his family which let me know he really didn’t want to speak of it – probably as shocked at his lips for letting out his worry before his brain had time to stop him. It made a deep impression on me. Because how many people are around us each day, living kinda like that? I’m not sure if some horrible tragedy had befallen his family or if he just had an argument with a parent that morning. It doesn’t really matter. What mattered was his sullen face. His sparkle-less eyes. That aura as if things just really are not ok. As I looked at him, he looked like a young man who was perishing right before my eyes.

I admit it’s one reason why I want us to listen for any other wisdom from the gospel of John today. That, and the fact that I also was reminded this week that neither in the Hebrew language or in Jesus’ native Aramaic tongue does a word exist for either eternity or infinity. They have a word for the ages (as was used in the Ephesians reading today), but nothing like our unfathomable concept of something that goes on forever and ever and ever – like eternal punishment from God. Furthermore, nowhere in the Torah (the first five books of the bible), or in the writings of Paul or of John is a word for hell ever used. The teacher I heard say this claimed he did his fact-checking with several biblical scholars and I know I always was taught of the gospel of John that the word translated into English as eternal – as in eternal life – actually has the sense of a quality of life here and now. More like abundance, life over-flowing with joy and love and peace right in this very moment. Concern for how people are living today. The teacher reminding of this went on to wonder how we ended up with a Christianity that is so incredibly focused on things like heaven, hell, and eternity. He even reminded of a conference in 1998 when the Roman Catholic Pope John Paul the Second wondered what needed to be done to reverse the prominent mis-understanding that heaven and hell are geographical places. Pope John Paul II insisted that both are states of consciousness – not places to be found somewhere in this great big cosmos.  (Information from Richard Rohr lecture:  “Hell No!” 2015.  available from cac.org.)

It’s kinda like what Jesus was trying to explain right here in the gospel of John. That to enter kingdom life, we have to be born-again. Not literally coming back out of our mothers’ wombs as Nicodemus puzzled, but Spirit awakened – stirred, coming upon us – to be aware in a whole new way of the Way of God: the way of self-giving, freely for another. Our own desires dying, for something else to take over. A daily being re-born. It’s a different rule of life or way of living that looks exactly like Christ’s. The one who’s life is the Way – the pattern of the truth for how all life is to be lived. . . . The Apostle Paul will talk about it as a renewing of our minds – a taking on the very Spirit of Christ, which some have called a Christ consciousness; living a new way in this world – a birthing into a different life than before such Spirit-infusion began. Not perishing. Not living condemned already thanks to our own limited awareness. It’s what Jesus was trying to explain to Nicodemus – the here and now abundant life he’d come to show in full.

That’s the deep, deep love of God. The “For God so loved the world,” that God, in Christ, willingly took on human flesh among us to ensure not a single one of us go through life with sullen faces. Sparkle-less eyes. That aura of emptiness that things just are not and never will be ok – perishing each day as zombies who plod without an ounce of joy through it all. Unaware of how precious we are to God. The Triune God couldn’t stand to see such suffering. And so . . . God, in Christ was born among us. Self-emptying. To live with us to show us the Truth. . . . . It’s what this whole season we’re in now and the season we’re soon to celebrate again is all about. Everything lives and must die before any new life can come again. If we miss it in Jesus – or fail to believe that’s what he’s all about, then maybe we can be sure to see it in the very pattern of all things — God’s gift for us to notice throughout creation and even in ourselves each day and one final day at our end. Or should I say, at our final new beginning?

For God so loved the whole wide world, that God didn’t want us to miss this. God didn’t want us to live in this world as if there is no hope. As if we had to be afraid or always wondering if it all is ok. It’s the very good news we come to know in the living, dying, and living again of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In him, we are indeed set free for abundant life here and now and forevermore. All is well! All is well! It’s the word of Life we have to share with those among us who are perishing right before our eyes.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

Pilgrimage Remembrances #4

11 March 2014: Bus Ride to Golan Heights, Mount Hermon, and Caesarea Philippi.

In sum: long, winding ride to BEAUTIFUL sights!

The Golan Heights.

The Golan Heights.

As I wandered near the Hermon Stream on a gorgeous Nature Reserve, I was overcome by my need for healing.

Hermon Stream Nature Reserve.

Hermon Stream Nature Reserve.

Here in this place he asked his first disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-21). Alone with that question, my response was: “Who do you, Lord, say that I am?” Longed-for Precious Child. One loved greatly and celebrated despite any falterings along the way. We all are. No matter how much I really want to be more special to Jesus than everyone else 🙂 ; we all carry the spark of the Divine within us – that’s how much the Holy One wants all of us. Enough to live within each of us and experience this amazing creation through our bodies, minds, and spirits.

IMG_2016

Long ago I noticed that the words on my Yoga mat say: Pro Source. From the inside-out they read: U OUR SOURCE. As I stand at the Banias (Hermon Spring) Falls, U OUR SOURCE overwhelms me. This spring is one of the three headwaters of the Jordan River. The infamous Jordan River runs through the seas (Galilee and Dead) of this land all the way to the other end of Israel, making the eastern border of this country a waterline. Standing in the rush and wonder of the falls, these were the words that I wrote:

 U OUR SOURCE.

Banias Falls.

Banias Falls.

Our pilgrimage leaders tell us that this place was known in the First Century for rest. Refreshment. A place to replenish. According to the gospel of Matthew, he came here and first told his disciples about the road ahead. Suffering in Jerusalem. Torture. Rejection. Death. And then . . . He told them the final part too, though it seems they all got stuck on the gory stuff instead of the immense glory to come!

I wonder if he came here purposefully. Did he come to his Source? To the source of the great river? Of Galilee? Of all of Israel and Judah? . . . Yes! Before he left his home district for Jerusalem, he brought them to the Source. . . . As we stand by these falls, I wonder if he was taking in the same kind of strength I seem to be taking in. I wonder if he was here to get himself ready.

15890450

Before we head to Jerusalem on 13 March 2014, we will observe a day of Sabbath rest. Menuha: the delight of God! I too shall be taking a Sabbath rest these next few days during Lent 2015. Time to just be with God in quiet and delight. I shall return to these pilgrimage 2014 remembrances when my Sabbath retreat comes to a close. Stay tuned . . .

Somewhere near the Golan Heights:  another Breadbasket of Israel!

Somewhere near the Golan Heights: another Breadbasket of Israel!

© Copyright JMN – 2015. All rights reserved.

More views at the Hermon Stream Nature Reserve:  11 March 2014.

Ruins of the Temple of Pan at Banias.

Ruins of the Temple of Pan at Banias.

15890435

Pilgrimage Remembrances #3

And on the third day touring the Holy Land . . .

10 March 2014 – Megiddo or Armageddon as we hear it called by some today: the site of the final battle envisioned in Revelation (16:16) when good finally will triumph to bring an end to all destruction.

A model of the walled city of Megiddo.

A model of the walled city of Megiddo.

Which makes some sense because in 7,000 years, this place has been conquered and rebuilt over 25 times. It’s unfortunate that the geography makes this the path for travel between such ancient superpowers as Egypt to the south, and Syria and Mesopotamia to the north. Set at the south-central edge of an incredibly fertile valley (the Jezreel Valley, which is known as the breadbasket of Israel), the inhabitants of Megiddo hardly had a chance! Nazareth can be seen in the distance northeast of Megiddo – just on the opposite edge of the valley. In other words, a young boy growing up in Nazareth certainly would have known and remembered the bloody history of Megiddo.

Ruins on Megiddo.

   Ruins on Megiddo.

Vertical Shaft inside the walled city leading down, down, down 120 feet to a water spring 215 feet through a tunnel -- an ancient way to get fresh water!

Vertical Shaft inside the walled city leading down, down, down 120 feet to a water spring 215 feet through a tunnel — an ancient way to get fresh water!

In our time of silent reflection on Megiddo, I wrote these words: Twenty-five times this little city has been conquered. I can’t imagine! How do you make a life in the midst of such a history when the very land under your feet runs red with the blood of so many others who tried to make home in the very same spot under your feet? How do you ever feel secure? Safe? Fearless? God really is their only hope. Their only security. And yet again we choose to secure ourselves. To allow might to be our fortress – no matter how many times that experiment fails. Jesus grew up not far from here. Which means he knew well how vulnerable his people – all people – were. How fragile their history. How often their choice to defend themselves with the very tools of force used against them. It would never work. It will never work.

Peace. How do we have peace in the midst of our violent, ready-to-fight history?

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy upon us all.

A view from Megiddo of the Jezreel Valley.  10 March 2014.

A view from Megiddo of the Jezreel Valley. 10 March 2014.

On to Nazareth: The childhood home of Jesus.       

A remaining ancient manger (for feeding horses) on Megiddo.

A remaining ancient manger (for feeding horses) on Megiddo.

Jesus, we’re stuck in a traffic jam in Upper Nazareth. And down below I can see the house of Mary and the house of Joseph – which of course confirm that Mary and Joseph were neighbors. The boy next door. It was meaningful to be at the Greek Orthodox Church of Mary’s Well. I like the tradition that she was drawing water from the well the first time the angel visited. Supposedly she was so afraid, she ran all the way home! It was a long way actually as we discovered when we were walking to it in the rain. . . . The Church of Joseph’s house was amazing. Ruins from the house of Joseph, which most probably were where Jesus grew up. How very cool to see what very well was Jesus childhood home.

Ruins in Nazareth believed to be the Holy Family's home.

Ruins in Nazareth believed to be the Holy Family’s home.

A carpenter shop in the front and the home in the back of it, if you have enough money and land. Which they supposedly must have according to the ruins. . . .

The Holy Family's mikvah.

The Holy Family’s mikvah.

To imagine the spot in Mary’s house where the angel visited – AGAIN, or for the first time if you don’t go with the tradition of the well. Courage certainly was the word that kept coming back. That must have been her trek from the well back to her home. Fear turned to courage with every step. . . . Courage overcoming the fear. Courage to say let it be. Courage to go along with God’s big dream for her life – and for the life of the world! . . .

The well of Nazareth (the believed site of the messenger's first visitation).

The well of Nazareth (the believed site of the messenger’s first visitation).

Icon of the Annunciation.

Icon of the Annunciation.

The site believed to be the spot of the 2nd visitation to young Mary (in her house).

The site believed to be the spot of the 2nd visitation to young Mary (in her house).

Our visit was a bit rushed, but so incredibly beautiful. I especially loved the family portraits of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. You don’t see all three of them together very often in the art.

Photo of the Holy Family Icon.  Taken by JMN.  10 March 2014.

Photo of the Holy Family Icon. Taken by JMN. 10 March 2014.

I love that one that looked Middle Eastern – more true to life. That one was great because it showed a whole family – the importance of each one of them in the story. . . . The importance of each one of us in the story. . . . It looked to me like such love. Such joy. Such laughter in their family. But such seriousness too. Growth. Learning. That very same courage both Mary and Joseph had – they passed it on to him. I guess for such a big dream, you needed two who were brave, despite their fear. Two who would say “let it be so with me as you desire!” Two who could build a foundation of courage and hope and obedience. . . . God, won’t you increase in me my courage and hope and obedience? . . . Let us all hear the voice of whatever messenger you send. Give us courage not to run away. But to sit. To wait. To listen. To allow a space in each one of us to open up from the fear into singing a song of the praise of God! Let us sing out to glorify the LORD who sets us free!

Statue of the Holy Family outside the Church of St. Joseph.  Nazareth.

Statue of the Holy Family outside the Church of St. Joseph. Nazareth.

Late afternoon, 10 March 2014: Stopped in Cana, I decided to re-read the story while I waited for the group that went to see the holy site. John 2:1-11: Jesus, his mother, and a few first followers attend a wedding feast a few miles northeast of his hometown. If you don’t know the story, read it. The gospel of John records it as the first of many of his great signs: unexpected abundance! In that spot, my reflections on the story were these: So clearly Jesus says to his mother, don’t push me! And yet . . . Mary, still the agent of God’s Spirit, persists. Lovely!

And the story goes that his first disciples believe because of this first amazing sign (turning LOTS – about 150 gallons so – of water into LOTS – about 150 gallons so – of the finest wine! Six huge vats full of the most amazing fruit of the vine – like the yield of a whole vineyard suddenly in their midst!) It was ABUNDANCE! An unexpected gift!

Which leaves me wondering what signs I’m given each day.

The sky over Cana in Galilee.  10 March 2014.

The sky over Cana in Galilee. 10 March 2014.

This gorgeous blue sky of Cana as the backdrop for beautiful, wispy clouds – the very same patch Mother Mary watched that day she first was visited.

Ru (my lil spirit dog): my experience of resurrection after putting down the last one on Good Friday. When my heart was broken in two, this sweet lil puppy was the gift to me that I would stand back up again. I would love and live and carry on – not because of me. But because of the Holy One. The One that is Life, that rises again and again and again.

Baby Ru!  1 August 2013.

Baby Ru! 1 August 2013.

Unexpected kindness and compassion in the midst of struggle and difficulty. Everything eventually working out. It always will. ALL always shall be well!

The cosmic pattern, the Way: living, and dying, and living again. If only we finally would learn your Way, O Mysterious Force.

All these signs of amazing abundance surround us every day!

Three favorite signs of unexpected abundance: 

a stick bug in my lavender, my beloved climbing rose, and my first-fruits of raspberries!

IMG_0018 IMG_0606 IMG_0616

© Copyright JMN – 2015. All rights reserved.

Pilgrimage Remembrances #2

More from an amazing Holy Land Pilgrimage from one year ago:  Lent 2014!

9 March 2014: The Jordan River (in Galilee) 

Jordan River in Galilee.  Photo by JMN, 9 March 2014.

Jordan River in Galilee. Photo by JMN, 9 March 2014.

Here we sit – toes nearly touching the water. Catfish swimming all around. Doves cooing as birds sweetly sing the eternal praises of God. (BTW: I can’t get over the fact that my own toes have been where the toes of Jesus have been! It’s really cool when I bend over each morning to touch them thinking of the God who lived among us – touching this earth with toes too!) MY BSFFFF (Best Spiritual Friend Forever Forever Forever) is here at my right hand. The beauty of this place was most unexpected! It’s not dry and desert (as it must be 100 miles south, closer to Jerusalem – where Jesus most probably was baptized). But here it is lush and glorious – alive with birds and fish and greens and people! Amazing! Through this river, God’s people entered. In this river, God’s people were washed clean for a new life in the Promised Land. In this river, God’s Christ was anointed to ready himself to bring new life to the world. With him, God was well pleased!

". . . just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him."  (Matthew 3:16)  The heavens at the Jordan River, Galilee.  9 March 2014.

“. . . just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” (Matthew 3:16) The heavens at the Jordan River, Galilee. 9 March 2014.

In the telling of our baptismal stories – in sharing our confirmations and ordinations, here my BSFFFF and I have renewed each other for the work that lies ahead. Here we have shared God’s laughter – God’s peace. God’s all-encompassing love. God’s strength. God’s refuge. . . . From these waters we can go forth to do anything. Be anything; for we are God’s. Let these moments, this time, our prayers and tears and laughter shared, ready us. Heal us of all the NOs to a life of YES, YES, YES!!! I love you, God, and give you thanks for this very special time of remembering Jesus’ baptism here. Of remembering our own! Praises be!  Amen. 15890171

Next: on to Magdala and an active archeological excavation of one of the only untouched First Century synagogues! Keep reading to find out more!

First Century Synagogue in Magdala, Galilee; discovered in 2009.

First Century Synagogue in Magdala, Galilee; discovered in 2009.

MAGDALA — a First Century Synagogue:  Our pilgrimage leaders tell us that Magdala was a First Century city that was destroyed in 67 A.D. It is right in the wadi – a place that is a dry valley until it rains to become a raging river. The synagogue was always in the center of town. Therefore, Magdala probably was much bigger than it first was thought. According to historian Josephus, 40,000 people lived in Magdala. He claimed it was one of the biggest and most important cities in First Century Galilee. It was a one day’s walk right down the Valley of Doves, on the Valley Road from Nazareth to Magdala on the Sea of Galilee. Supposedly it was too muddy in this wadi to walk from Magdala to Capernaum – you had to take a boat. Magdala was the wealthy port over to Capernaum – a place of rest and entry into the country for all nations. Magdala was filled with Jews who were fishermen, who would take their fish to the commercial shops of Capernaum, the crossroads of the world where those from all walks of life lived.

First Century ruins of houses & shops found near synagogue in Magdala.

First Century ruins of houses & shops found near synagogue in Magdala.

Magdala was all about fish – ruins reveal pools for sorting fish near the sea, then small pools in shops for storing fish until they were sold. There even are salt water pools a bit further from the sea where fish that went unsold that day would be dried for later use. To this day, Magdala is known for its fish! . . . As far as history reveals, Romans also lived in Magdala alongside Jews – right at the foot of Mount Arbel. In 67 A.D. Magdala was destroyed by the Romans. Thousands were killed. Others were sold into slavery. Very few people survived. When the rainy season came again, mud buried the ruins of this First Century city. It all would have gone unknown if not for the efforts of a prominent Jerusalem hotel.

Remains of Mosaic found in First Century synagogue of Magdala.

Remains of Mosaic found in First Century synagogue of Magdala.

Early in 2000 A.D., they wanted to expand their enterprise to the beautiful retreat area of Galilee. When they began to break ground for their exquisite resort, the earth revealed the ruins of Magdala, or Migdal as it’s known in Hebrew. A city that had been hidden for over one thousand, nine hundred years. In 2009, the Magdala synagogue was unearthed. The Franciscans now own the property and have built there an amazing basilica. . . . Magdala remains an active archeological site to this day.

A Mikvah found in First Century Magdala -- 7 steps down into living/running water for purification baths in Jewish homes.

A Mikvah found in First Century Magdala — 7 steps down into living/running water for purification baths in Jewish homes.

15890210

Pulpit and Table of chancel area in new sanctuary overlooking Sea of Galilee in Magdala.

Pulpit and Table of chancel area in new sanctuary overlooking Sea of Galilee in Magdala.

One more entry from 7 March 2014 — ARBEL in Galilee: Our pilgrimage leaders tell us that from Nazareth, the childhood of Jesus, to the Sea of Galilee, the place of his ministry, is just fifteen miles. At 30 years of age, he walks the Valley Road to begin his ministry. What strikes me from Mount Arbel is that this place (Galilee) is so small. Magdala is the city between the two. He walked this short distance from childhood to adulthood. One Galilean town of about 200 people to another small Galilean place. All in an effort to change the world. Four miles from his home, the city of Sepphoris was destroyed by the Romans in 4 CE when he was just four (or so) years old. [See Jesus in Matthew 5:14: “A city built on a hill (as Sepphoris was) cannot be hid.”] From this mount you can see the Valley Road.

The Valley Road from Nazareth, past Mount Arbel, to Magdala, to the Sea of Galilee.

The Valley Road from Nazareth, past Mount Arbel, to Magdala, to the Sea of Galilee.

He walked right here. Leaving his home. On the way he passed Arbel – where his fellow Jews hid out in caves on the mountain to try to resist the occupation of his land – from Syria in 167 BCE and Herod the Great closer to the time of his life in 39-40 BCE and then from Rome in 66 CE. . . .

The Sea of Galilee from Arbel.  7 March 2014.

The Sea of Galilee from Arbel. 7 March 2014.

Why did he go to the sea? What called him to walk down the Valley Road to begin to make the effort to try to change the world? . . . Was he drawn to the Living Waters of Galilee? . . . And how deeply did Arbel and Sepphoris affect him? . . . How deeply did he desire freedom for his people? An end to the violence. Hope. Lives of simple gratitude and freedom and joy instead of the foot of another on your neck telling you no. Holding you down. . . . How much of this was for freedom – not just of our sins for life everlasting; but here and now. For right-relationship together TODAY?!

© Copyright JMN – 2015. All rights reserved.

The Cliffs of Arbel and the Valley of the Doves.

The Cliffs of Arbel and the Valley of the Doves.

1 + 1 = All things Possible!

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!
RevJule
______________________

A sermon for a 8 March 2015 PCUSA Service of Installation

Inspired by:  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (and Mark 6:6b-13)

A reading from the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Chapter 4:9-12 (NRSV). Listen for God’s word to us.  “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

As we’re gathered here on this great day for a wonderful celebration of officially binding you all with your new associate pastor, that popular television series from a few years back springs to mind. Ok, it actually was from several decades ago, and folks around my age grew up on its re-runs. I wonder if you know it. Set in the American Wild West, it featured this tall, handsome man. I remember him always in white – though that might be because televisions didn’t come in color in those days. We’re talking a LONG time ago! He did have a pop of color in that mysterious black mask, which I guess was all he needed to keep his real identity in disguise. Always our hero, that man could make us swoon all the while riding his incredible horse Silver. Any villain better watch out with him on their tail. And if he couldn’t wrangle ‘em in himself, his trusty Native American side-kick always came through. . . . You know who I’m talking about, right? . . . An enduring American icon, he’s been hailed, this fictional character – who just might be responsible for wreaking a lot more psychological havoc in our country than we realize. That infamous, amazing Lone Ranger.

They did their best to portray him as one who kept to himself and always could handle it all on his own – after all, he was the Lone Ranger. At the same time, they always had Tonto and Silver in on it. Even if he was one of the last American Texas Rangers, he never was alone. In fact, sometimes it seemed the whole point of the show was that Silver and Tonto always had to appear out of nowhere to help him save the day – at least that’s the way it still plays out in my memory. Could it be that the title of the show really was one of those tongue-in-cheek, ironic twists many of us never caught? Hmm: that might make a very intriguing in-depth study if any are interested in righting the prevalence of our overly-individualistic ways – even in the church. . . . Well, thanks to Nolan’s exam on the floor of the Presbytery meeting, we know he’s more of a space guy than a Wild West nut. So maybe he doesn’t have a clue about any of this. Hopefully no one here is going to see him racing off all on his own trying to save the day. Knowing his kind heart the impulse might be there. But based upon his deep commitment to relational ministry, I’m hoping none of us are going to have to come around here to remind him to get off his high Silver horse because there are no Lone Rangers in ministry!

If you don’t believe it from the example of the Triune God we meet in Jesus, then look to the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Now, I’m not about to claim evidence for the Trinity here in the wisdom scriptures. But what a beautiful image of two united. One plus another coming together to equal incredible strength. Maybe that’s exactly why Jesus sends out his first followers in pairs as we hear in the gospel of Mark, chapter 6. One cannot go it on their own. Literally, I can’t imagine anyone traveling alone from town to town in ancient Galilee. The walk could have been deadly by yourself and it would have been easy to dismiss a single individual trying to heal and teach and proclaim a new way of life all on their own. Even at the start, committees of one had no place in Christianity! . . . Something happens, doesn’t it, when two come together. When we’re really united – committed to being together and working together. Sticking with one another through whatever tragedy befalls, whatever conundrum arises, whatever force attacks. Together like that: an energy is born. The bond grows stronger. All things become possible. In fact, everything gets better. Just think about it. Here you’ve had Mary Louise for a few years now and as a congregation I’m sure you have grown from her gracious heart. Her wise leadership, her creative spark, and her ability to listen deeply. And now Nolan joins the team bringing his gifts of a deep appreciation for music, a passion for hospitality, and a great love of the whole cosmos. It means twice as many gifts in your pastoral leadership – two times the wisdom, compassion, creativity, and generosity. But don’t think it’s just about the two of them coming together as your ordained pastoral leaders to be about the ministry. Sure, they’ll have to learn each other’s ways and figure out how best to do this Head of Staff and Generalist Associate Pastor thing. But you as a congregation are in on it too. They are here to ensure the table is set well for you to be nourished, so that together you all can go about healing and teaching and proclaiming a new way of living all throughout this world.

It’s so very Presbyterian: that the offices of the church are God’s gift to ensure the Body of Christ fulfills our calling to be the Body of Christ for the world today. The offices have their distinct function: teaching elders to spiritually feed the people, ruling elders to lead in God’s vision as discerned together, deacons to serve the lost and lonely and forgotten. And every other disciple of Christ to fulfill our baptismal vows to be attentive to God’s presence in our lives and to be about the mission of God as our own unique gifts contribute best. Every member of the body needing one another to keep it all moving as God desires. And how beautiful it is when it works! When we set aside our own ego-needs and come together. The wisdom writer points out the obvious: when one’s alone and falls, no one is there to pick that individual up. If we’re doing it all on our own, then where is the spark – that synergy, that light, that energy that is God’s very self in our midst when we join hands together to be the Body? Wasn’t it Jesus who said: “when two or three are together, watch out!” (Matthew 18:20). Two or three – or a whole congregation and their entire ministry staff – truly coming together in the spirit of love creates this beautiful energy. That ebb and flow between us that is one of our best experiences of the Triune God, who is energy itself. That divine self-giving of the One-and-Three God whose blueprint is all over this creation – even in each one of us. That’s an unstoppable union! A mighty church where the buzz can be felt. The gifts of the Spirit overflowing – all that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23a). None of that ever comes – none of it ever is produced by a lone ranger.

The world needs one plus one plus every one of you to be about the impossible for God today – right here in the community in which your facility sits! My prayer for you all as a church – and you all as pastors here, Nolan and Mary Louise, and your whole paid staff – is that you get to know each other. Open your hearts and minds to one another to see the beautiful, unique contribution every one of you is here to make. This pastor-people relationship thing can be tricky – several of you here today are pastors so you know this and others of you long have been the people of the church; you know it too. So go gently with one another – giving the wide expanse of grace to one another as you come together to be Christ’s Body in this place and for these days. There’s such a wonderful adventure ahead for you all as you grow deeper into this one and one and everyone connection. Like that: truly nothing will be impossible among, and through, you because God will be mightily in your midst! You’ll be such an incredible light to one another, and to this whole world, living like that – united. Working out any difficulties together. Setting aside your own desires, for the will of God to be embodied instead. Lifting each other up through it all, ‘cuz you’re going to need it some days. Honestly loving one another – even forgiving each other when you falter – for the sake of all the world. . . . Um, um, um! It’s beautiful just to imagine! Incredible! May it be so . . .

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015 (All rights reserved.)

“Do You See what God Sees?”

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!
RevJule
______________________

A Sermon on Mission & Vision for 8 March 2015 – 3rd Sunday during the Season of Lent

This is going to be a different kind of sermon. So hear these words first – a few parts of scripture that seem to give us a pretty good sense of what God wants from and for us as the Body of Christ in the world today. Matthew 4:17, from a version of the bible called The Message, comes right after the author attributes words from the prophet Isaiah to Jesus as the dawning light for those who had been in darkness. Listen for God’s word to us: “This Isaiah-prophesied sermon came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off (saying): ‘Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.’”

Likewise at the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus again speaks, Matthew 28:18-20 according to The Message. Listen: “Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: ’God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.’”

It’s always inspiring to hear what it looked like in the beginning. And Acts 2:44-47 captures the scene well, again from The Message, just so words we might have heard a lifetime stand out with new meaning. Listen: “All the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God.” (See:  food together always has been an important part of being followers of Christ!)  “People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.”

One more amazing vision for the Body of Christ in the world today is tucked away in Romans 15:20-21. This one, from the New Revised Standard Version, records Paul’s words for going about discipleship the way he was. Listen: “Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand.’”

Thanks be to God, all over the New Testament, we’re asked to see our life together as God sees it. To be about what God desires for us to be about – not just as individuals, but as the Body of Christ together today.

A ruling elder of the church and I attended a workshop last week at our Presbytery’s leadership training event.  Marks of Congregational Vitality was led by Deb Smith. She works for the United Methodist Church and they have been compiling information regarding the churches that really are clicking today – places where energy and satisfaction is high. If you’ve been following anything from the Vital Church series I’ve been leading these past couple months, then some of this might not be that surprising. What I love about the work Deb presented to us last week is not only is it a great summary, but it’s also tangible. Clear marks being seen today in churches that are firing on all cylinders to really have an impact on the lives of members and on their communities.

It reads a little bit like those late night top ten lists, so in reverse order #7: Shared Clergy and Lay Leadership – clear about responsibilities, committed, and accountable as a team.  #6. Connectional Relationships that Facilitate Participating in God’s Mission of Global Transformation – connectional and cooperative with denominational and local community efforts.  #5. Consistent Concern for Inviting People into Relationship with Jesus Christ, combined with Wise Practices for Initiating them into the Body of Christ. This one has to do with guests truly experiencing acceptance among churches. Welcome like they’re a long-last friend you are so very grateful to see!  And because a congregation cares so much about new folks who might want to find belonging there, vital churches have an intentional process for newcomers to know the theology and practices of the church, and to keep on growing as disciples of Jesus Christ. . . . I realize that to really unpack them all, each one of these marks could be a sermon in itself.  But for now, let’s keep going.  . . .  #4. Cultivation of Intentional & Mutual Relationships with the Most Vulnerable – in other words with those in and around the community who live in poverty, children, those imprisoned, and the powerless. This means not just tending to their needs, but learning from them about faithfulness in God’s family. True mutual connection.  #3. Nurture of Growth in Discipleship through Mutual Support and Accountability. So that expectations of being a part of the church are clear to everyone – newcomer and long-time member alike. I wonder what those might be in this church: being present in worship or at least one other ministry of the church each week? Giving an additional hour or two of your time somehow every week? Praying for and financially supporting the work of the church?  Kinda like the public profession vows of the church ask. From the PCUSA Book of Common Worship: “Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, share in its worship and ministry through your prayers and gifts, your study and service, and so fulfill your calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?” (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, 1993, p. 451). Everyone always says I will to that question – whether they’re just asked before the session or in worship before us all. The real question is: how then can we see that in one another’s daily lives? . . . This mark of church vitality also is about everyone understanding that discipleship is a journey of growing deeper and deeper into Christ-like living – a journey we vow to undertake through our baptism and confirmation.  A journey that doesn’t end with confirmation, but is just getting started. Someone mentioned it last week at the training: no R.O.D.’s allowed in Christianity. Which stands for: no Retired on Duty Christians. Which kinda leads to #2: Practice of Spiritual Disciplines both Corporately and Individually. In other words, churches that are clicking, together and alone do the things that grow us deeper in Christ-like behavior. Things like personal prayer, study, service, worship, and giving as faith-forming practices – not just as things we pointlessly do – but as practices that shape us more and more like Christ. With pastors and ruling elders as intentional guides on the journey, kinda like coaches of sports teams who create new drills for us to grow to the next level on the journey. O, and prayer and scripture reflection also are a part of every church gathering in vital congregations.  Finally #1: a concluding mark of vitality in a church: Clarity around the Mission and Vision of the Congregation. Folks clearly know why a particular congregation exists and what it aims to accomplish for God in this world. We’re not just talking about some nice statement that might get on the church letterhead or t-shirt. We’re talking about a true guiding understanding that everyone knows and uses as the measuring stick for what and how a congregation undertakes ministries together. Vital churches today – those firing on all cylinders to make substantial differences in the spiritual lives of their members have some, if not all such characteristics.  (Information from handout entitled:  “Marks of Congregational Vitality” by Debra D. Smith, 2015.)

We’re working on it. In a workshop after worship we’ll be proposing that the mission of this highly relational, servant-minded church is to:  Connect People to Christ and One Another.  And because of where we find ourselves at this time in this congregation’s history, the proposed vision for future ministry is:  To be a Vibrant Community of Worship. We still have a few details to flesh out regarding both, but think about how crucial it is for churches to be clear about who we are and what we believe God is calling us to become in the future. It comes down to matters of identity, which lead to future purpose.

The prophet Jeremiah springs to mind. God’s people were in exile. The world around them had changed dramatically. Snatched out of Israel and plopped down hundreds of miles east in Babylon, life as they knew it was over – never to be the same again. We might be able to identify with that as we look out at the world and see such changes. Families aren’t what they used to be – they look and interact in such different ways as they face so many pressures today. Communities have changed. The ways of those all around us are different. We might find that what others value, how they choose to live their lives, and how they spend their time is quite different from us. The language some use and the ways they connect with each other and with the Great Beyond, which we call God, is not like it’s always been for us raised in the church. . . .  It was a joy to read what some of you wrote last month when we were celebrating this church’s history. The overarching message recorded by you and by homebound members who were interviewed was one of love. This church has been a people of deep care for one another and for those in need in the community for a very long time. Abiding friendships and even a sense of family is the norm for many of you as you consider your experience of this church – which might be why half of you drive long distances to be a part of this communion. Those values need to continue here not just because so many of you want them, but also because they can be a mighty light in a world that tends to split us apart rather than bringing all sorts of people together. The prophet Jeremiah gave God’s great message of hope to those finding themselves in foreign territory.  Listen to Jeremiah 29:4 and following:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7, NRSV) . . . The prophet is going to go on with those wonderful words that God surely knows the plans God has for them. For their welfare and not demise. To ensure a wonderfully hopeful future! (Jeremiah 29:11). But first, the command about investing ourselves deeply into the place in which we find ourselves. Seeking the welfare of those around us – not just the members of our own tribe, but those not here with us. As it always has been for the people of God, the more we discover the gifts we have to share with them, the greater our hope-filled future.

Which leads to a few questions for today. What would our worship time in fellowship hall be if not some questions to pull you into the sermon right here and now? A few on our Vision for Ministry. And you don’t have to talk with each other about this today. Instead, we are going to take some time now to listen deeply for each of our answers to these questions. We have to. The wisdom from God is to invest ourselves in the place where we find ourselves: looking around the community around this church building to see what breaks your heart in the lives you see out there? If you think you don’t know this community enough, feel free to generalize what you see in your own neighborhood because from what the demographic studies of this five or so mile patch of land tell us, it’s all probably right here too. . . . Next, do any bible stories come to mind regarding that? Write them down. After you spend some time in individual reflection upon that, what do you see in this church that can address that? Experiences, abilities, talents to fit right into that need like a square peg fitting perfectly into the same-sized square hole. . . . One final question, because we have to be honest with ourselves in such reflection. Sometimes there is stuff in us that gets in the way of us actively addressing the things we see that break our hearts. Maybe we’re afraid. Maybe we’re too busy. Maybe we don’t really know how to begin. Maybe we just don’t want to. Whatever it might be, write it down. Honest reflection is the first step to being able to do anything about what might get in the way. . . . One last thing before we all get quiet for this personal time of reflection. You see in #1 to write on the sheet what breaks your heart in this community and then summarize that same thing in a few words on one of the notecards you will find on the table. After you do that, I’m going to pass around a basket to collect those notecards. While you continue with the other questions, I’ll get those community heart-breaks together for the prayers of the people that will follow this time together. . . . This one isn’t a talking exercise, just personal reflection right now. You can talk about it during coffee time in a few minutes if you like. So, let us begin.

(Silence for individual reflection.)

Now let us turn our hearts and minds to a time of prayer together . . .

During this sermon, those present wrote down what in the community breaks their heart. The overwhelming response included three things: homelessness – as close as one mile away in a motel where many stay because they do not have homes. Senior adults – as close as across the street from the church’s facility – who are lonely or do not have the loving support of family and friends. Children who are living in poverty or going to bed hungry in homes in the community. The pressures of young families in general also was mentioned. We concluded our service with a prayer naming each of these concerns aloud before God and one another.

May God continue to work in each of our hearts and minds to find a way not just to lift up our concerns but to move our emotions into tangible actions for the betterment of those in the community who are homeless, senior adults, and children and families in need. Amen!

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)