SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

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Do This and Live: Part 2

The Parable of the Good ______________.
Chapter ten of Luke begins with disciples, not twelve but 70, maybe 72, being sent out two by two to enact, rehearse, make known, God’s kingdom. Healings, and freeing from evil Spirits, hospitality, and the acceptance of it, knowing when to stay and knowing when to move on.

The effects of this are electric!! The disciples return pumped up, excited, transformed!

But just like in our lives and our day, there is always one who refuses to celebrate, the glass half-empty, the pessimist, the cranky . . . the one that wants to change the subject.

In this case, it was a teacher of the law, a lawyer, an expert in the meaning and application of Old Testament law.

What must I do to inherit life eternal (the ability to live/act/behave in ways that reflect the quality of God’s life/the characteristics of God today)?

Again Jesus is talking to one who would normally be the one that we would go to in order for this question to be answered.

What is written in the Law? What’s your take on it,? You’re the expert!

“You shall love—“love the Eternal One your God with everything you have: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind”d—and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Luke 10:27 (The Voice Bible)

Yes, you are right, Do this and live! Do this habitually — as the Amplified Bible tells us — and live. Make it a natural response, like breathing, walking, and loving response to those that are closest to you.

We hear this story and finds ourselves at the edge of our seats. We too want to know, we too want to make sure that we are doing the right things.

So . . . one more thing Jesus, I just want to make sure that I understand, I want to make sure that I have not missed anything.

The scripture tells us that this religious one, this expert, this anal retentive keeper of the scriptural law, wanted to “justify, vindicate, himself,” He wanted to make himself feel better, he’s doing enough, right? I’m good, I’m ok, I have met the minimum requirements.

Who’s my neighbor? What do you think it means? Again, I just want to make sure.

The Greek word for “neighbor“ that the Gospel writer chooses is the word “plesíon” whose roots are in the concept of proximity, near to, side by side.

πλησίον – near one/neighbor/prójimo

Who is my “plesíon?” who is this “near one?” Is this a geographical context? (especially in an era where we live next to those most like us)

So Jesus tells him a story:

This fellow was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho when some robbers mugged him. They took his clothes, beat him to a pulp, and left him naked and bleeding and in critical condition. By chance, a priest was going down that same road, and when he saw the wounded man, he crossed over to the other side and passed by. Then a Levite who was on his way to assist in the temple also came and saw the victim lying there, and he too kept his distance. Then a despised Samaritan journeyed by. When he saw the fellow, he felt compassion for him. The Samaritan went over to him, stopped the bleeding, applied some first aid, and put the poor fellow on his donkey. He brought the man to an inn and cared for him through the night.

The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn’t enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.”

Luke 10:30-35 (The Voice)

Samaritans and Jews were mortal enemies. Both staked a claim at the right belief, the right worship, and the right way of thinking. Both saw the other as unfaithful, unclean, and unworthy. In this story the ones most likely to help: the local church pastor & the seminary professor, both kept their distance. Were not interested in getting “near,” not interested in being neighbor.

The despised one though . . . made the decision to come near, to get next to, to get involved in the messiness of his situation — did you hear it? — stopped the bleeding (got this despised one’s blood on him), lifted him up (coming face to face, skin to skin, body to body), and placed him on his mode of transportation, now having to walk alongside (sacrificing his ease), spent the night caring for him (little sleep, much mess), and finally this despised one used his financial resources to care for his enemy.

We know it as the “The Good Samaritan,” but maybe as scholar Amy-Jill Levine tells us we should probably call it: The Parable of the Good (insert name of your enemy here/of your despised one here).

For Dr. Levine, as a Jewish scholar it would be, she says, “The Parable of the Good Hamas Member,” For me, and I am not proud to say it,  it would be the “Parable of the Good Christian Fundamentalist.”

Dr. King, in his sermon “I See the Promised Land,” refers to this parable saying:

“And so the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

A Missioned People — Conviction Meets Hope
This is my fourth State of the Church address. Each time I’ve stood before you deeply convicted. Convicted about my own need for God, forgiveness, and grace. Convicted about the ways that my own fears, anxieties, and struggles are keeping me from leading you into the fruitful work of God’s kingdom. Convicted of my need to surrender and begin again.

This year is no different. But this past year I have been more deeply shaped in the coming together of conviction and hope.

See about this same time last year I was approached by one of my colleagues to join him in writing a book called The Marks of Hope. It is a series of reflections by three of us on how congregations can become beacons of hope in the midst of all the divisions happening in our culture, country, and church.

In Spanish, my native language, hope is esperanza, translated literally it means “the state of waiting.” Writing about hope awakened me to how pivotal our role is as the Body of Christ — as bearers of the love of God, self, and neighbor. As a people who see neighbor in all who they encounter. A people who “choose” to make neighbor out of despised ones and who choose to allow despised ones to make neighbors out of us!

I’ve been reminded that when we become a people committed to living the way of Jesus, committed to doing what Jesus does, and being Jesus in the world — loving God, self, and neighbor — we must ask a different set of questions, questions that inspire us to live into the challenge of being the good Samaritan and the Jewish person who received the samaritan’s help:

What is the end towards which we are living our lives?

What is the common good?

What is the purpose for why we live life?

What are the habits and dispositions the allow us to live this kind of purpose?

This way of life is difficult and challenging. It constantly calls us to transformation, and to recognize the complexity in simplicity.

Theologian Justo Gonzalez speaking about this parable tells us:

“Quite often, what the Lord requires is clear; but the cost is also clear, and so we ask more and more questions.”

From the color of the carpet to political affiliation, from modes of baptism, to who is welcomed, we ask because it is easier to continue asking questions than to do what Jesus calls us to do. It is a helpful delay tactic that many of us learn as children.

One of my favorite conversation partners, Gregory Boyle tells us in his book, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship:

That pure, simple, loving outlook is why we, the Choir, are drawn to the original program. It’s not a liberal or conservative view; it is a holy, radical take, precisely because it takes seriously what Jesus took seriously: inclusion, nonviolence, unconditionally compassionate loving-kindness, and acceptance. The Choir finds itself drawn like moths to the flame of its authenticity. What we discover when we embrace it is that true spirituality ought not end in the privacy of our soul but in real kinship with the poor. If we can find ourselves in this salvific relationship to those on the margins, we see as never before and it becomes our passageway. (p 155)

Living the way of Jesus – loving God, self, and neighbor leads us to live a life of kinship. As we live into kinship we find life, good life, abundant life, real life.

Our founder John Wesley called us to three practices that we might call practices of the Way — practices of kinship:

Do No Harm

Do Good

Stay in Love with God

Our faith, like our God, should be incarnational. Should always press us to look around and find the places where the Holy Spirit is already at work, the places where Jesus is visiting, the places where Good News are needed. Where salvation is to be found and where salvation is desperately required.

A congregation committed to this way, committed to the way of Jesus, to the way of peace, completion, wholeness, salvation, in the midst of the mess of life. A congregation where we at each moment remind ourselves and the world of what a wise nun told me this summer: NO judgment, just GRACE! For yourself, for your neighbor, for all that you encounter.

We are that community! And I believe that there are many in our city and region that are looking for this kind of community. A community that refuses to participate in the evils of exclusion, hatred, bigotry, and any of the -isms that so often describe our experience in our day to day life.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told us “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

We becoming a place that models what love for ALL people looks like. We becoming a place of empowerment, challenge, and growth. We becoming a hub for movements that seek the common good, that connects neighbors, and that reminds all of our duty to be agents of love, compassion, and justice.

  • We hosting conversations about the difficult topics of the day.
  • We worshiping in ways that open up our imaginations to God’s ways.
  • We shaping a new generation of people in the way of Jesus.
  • We advocating for the people that Jesus advocated for.
  • We sowing seeds in the neighborhoods across our city for peace, healing, and justice — seeds of God’s kingdom.
  • We becoming a movement ourselves. Our weekly gathering merely a stop along the way to be fueled, reminded and empowered by the Holy Spirit. A place to struggle, grow and find meaning.
  • We not afraid, we leaning on our unique call and loudly proclaiming – no judgment, just grace – do this and live!!! Unapologetically and courageously!!

________________

Part 3 coming tomorrow!

Do This and Live: State of the Church 2018

SOC Image 1Introduction

Ten years ago I gathered with a group of 50 young pastors and heard Adam Hamilton, pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, the largest United Methodist Church in the US, share three questions that he uses to help his congregation find their center. Help them remember why they exist. He encouraged us to share these questions with our congregations:

  1. Why do people need Jesus Christ?
  2. Why do people need the church?
  3. Why do people need this particular church?

Ever since I’ve asked this questions of all the congregations that I’ve served. The questions have always been a source for lively conversation. Many had never thought about it in this way before. I had not thought about it in this way before, so I thought this would be a good time for us to consider these questions as we enter into 2018.

Why do people need Jesus Christ?

People need Jesus Christ, because we have a desperate need to be made whole, healed, connected, reminded that we are beloved, God’s image living in us!

Our tendency to sin and death is a tendency that separates us from our true self, from others, and from God. A tendency that alienates us, separates us and sends us to the margins. It is a tendency that makes us alienate others, become separate from the other, and push others to the margins. No wonder Jesus came, God-self, in the flesh, and began visiting the margins. To show us what love looked like, what salvation looked like, that is is possible to be restored.

This is why I am so passionate about my call as a proclaimer of this message because I know how desperately we all need Jesus.

Why do people need the church?

This is a more complex question. It is a question that I have asked myself often, as you know I am one of those that has a love-hate relationship with the church.

As I told you earlier we have a core tendency to sin and death, to alienate, it convinces us that we do not belong, and separates us from our true humanity, and tries to make us believe that we are God. Our primal story, one of the great fables in human history, begins with two people that are deceived by a serpent. They fall into the belief that God does not care and if only they would satisfy their prideful, self-centered, and individualistic longings and impulses, they could be like God. In fact their becoming like God is exactly what God is trying to avoid. God is not to be trusted!

This is our story! Time and time we choose other gods, choosing our own selves as god, choosing fruit that looks good to the eye but lethal to our souls.

People need the church because our salvation calls us back to our nature as a people of community. Just like God is community in Father-Son-Spirit so are we, God’s communal image living in us. Our baptism initiatives us into this new (renewed) life, grafts us and binds us to the visible presence of Christ in the world – the church, the body of believers, to community of those who are growing in God’s love. This body’s sole purpose is to be a light for what community looks like to a growingly isolated, separated, and divided world. We exist as ancient writers have said: “for the life of the world.”

Who Are We and Why Are We Here?

Why do people need this particular church? This is a great question, especially as a people who live in Shreveport, Louisiana. I’ve read that Shreveport once had the most churches per capita in the United States. I believe it, all you have to do is drive up and down Ellerbe Rd and Line Ave and count the many congregations along the way.

Why this particular church? If we disappeared today if Grace Community was not here would Shreveport/Bossier be less just, compassionate, kind, loving? What effect are we having? Would we be missed if we were not here?

Grace Community is a gifted and unique congregation, a pivotal mission field not just for the Shreveport/Bossier area but for the entire State (and maybe even the region).

We are a congregation that from the beginning has been committed to reaching the unchurched and de-churched, narrative leadership, cutting-edge communication, spiritual formation, and incarnational ministry to ALL people.

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, of the Louisiana Area,  in a sermon to our congregation in the Spring of 2014 described Grace Community as creative, push es the envelope, courageous, risks taking, mission minded, and exciting. (you can see her sermon here.)

We are here for others to experience life, abundant life, heaven on earth, eternal life beginning today. Notice that we are not here for the afterlife, heaven, hell, the whole after you die thing. Not here for fear!

And yet we are still afraid, we still wonder . . .

We like the teacher of the law, we like this faithful, obedient, put together, intelligent people want to make sure that we have the right belief, the right intellectual assent.

The encounter between Jesus and the teacher of the law comes in the midst of the joy of living life, of being a kingdom people, this encounter comes in the midst of excitement, of Jesus thanking God for the way that is being revealed to the disciples around him. Did you notice?

_________________

Part II coming tomorrow . . .

Good News of Great Joy: A Christmas Eve Homily

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Photo by Luke Palmer on Unsplash

“Noel, Noel, Come to see
what God has done,
Noel, Noel, the story
Of amazing love,
The light of the world,
Given for us!”

(Noel – Chris Tomlin/Ed Cash/Matt Redman)

Today we celebrate what God has done! We celebrate God’s amazing love, We celebrate that God the eternal, almighty, and creator enters the world for us! All of us, all of creation!

We celebrate that God was pleased to come, wanted to come, desired and it was in God’s own nature to come!

Are we surprised by the way that God chose to break into history?

According to the Christmas story in Luke’s gospel God comes, God enters history through homelessness, filth, noise, uncomfortableness, anxiety, uncertainty, strangers, expectations, and promises that seem hard to keep.

In other words, God enters the world through the reality that is birth, like we all do!

This entering according to the Angels is Good News of Great Joy!!

We sing it in songs, we decorate with it, and we hear it again and again in our reading of the Christmas story: Good News of Great Joy!

But what does this mean?

God creator of the universe, God perfect, eternal, and holy. God pure, safe, and sure. God quiet, beautiful, and fragrant. God, outside of time, maker of time, and timeless. This God entering . . .

Good news of Great Joy!!

As we gather together on this holiest of days we do not just celebrate that God showed up 2,000 yrs ago; Oh, no, we gather because as it turns out God has been and continues to “show up” in history.

God showing up in both glorious and lowly ways:

In the smile of a child and in the tears of a toddler
In the fruitfulness of spring and the barrenness of winter
In the coming home of a loved one and in the quiet of an empty house
In the warmth of a sunny day and in the fragrance of a rainy morning.
In the joy of birth and in the sadness of death.
In the cool ocean breeze and in the devastating wind of the hurricane.
In unexpected people and unexpected places.

Think about it? God coming as one who “saves” people, one who frees people, heals people, one who makes broken people whole, one who restores, renews and redeems. A God who comes to create again and again.

Good News of Great Joy!!

Have you ever tried to mend something? Heal someone? Have you tried to recreate something?

At first, it looks easy, doesn’t it? It is like the challenge on a baking show when the bakers are given the ingredient list but only very basic instructions. If you are not familiar with the baked good you are supposed to make you have to try to figure it out.

The bake good looks amazing on the sample plate. The hosts and chief bakers taste it and celebrate it, then wonder how the amateur bakers will do.

The amateur bakers, on the other hand, find themselves, scratching their heads, experimenting and hoping . . .

So God chooses to come, God chooses to show us, to give us the recipe. God chooses to show up in the most vulnerable and human way, God choosing to enter fully, to not hold back, to make Godself known, to Love!!

Good News of Great Joy!

It turns out that God came to show us what being truly human looks like. God came to show us what being God really looked like. In Jesus we have the perfect example of what happens when humanity at its fullness meets every day of life–it looks like divine life!

We often put this idea aside, we convince ourselves that it is impossible to be like God, to do what Jesus did. We tell ourselves that our lives are too messy, complicated, and different. We settle for being good (according to what we think that looks like). Soon the god that we proclaim does not match what the biblical witness tells us. Christmas comes to remind us:

It’s like God says: You want to know what I look like? You want to know what love looks like? Here’s a baby!

A baby?
Yes, a baby,
wrapped in swaddling clothes,
Diapered, crying,
Eating, burping,
spitting up,
Nursing constantly,
And confusing his days
With nights;
a little bundle of joy.

In a manger,
Cows mooing,
Horses Neigh-ing
Sheep bleating,
Dogs barking,
a stinky and humid trough,
slobber all over it.

It makes you wonder why all of this is good news?

But then I think about our obsession with perfection, our constant worry about our security, our hoarding, and knack for self-centeredness. To make all of our life about us, to assume that our way is the best way, not just for us but for everyone around us, and our desperate need to come across as having it all together, as being “good,” special, and ok.

It does not seem to match with what God did . . .

We enter our safe neighborhoods,
God enters a risky creation.

We fill up our Christmas trees,
God empties God-self.

We lull ourselves with consumption
God wails into the world creating.

We constantly negating our mortality
God taking on human form.

We seeing the sin of the other,
God, seeing the beauty of ALL

We focusing on our inability to be like God,
God showing us what it looks like to truly be us!

The promise of this night is the promise of that night long ago. That our worst tendencies, our enmity, violence, strife, suspicion, anger, disagreements, divisions, and brokenness are not the last word. That our worst day does not define us, that our experience and view of the world is limited on a good day, that often what we call authenticity is nothing more than our protective ego living out a false self. That in the midst of our worst day, hour, moment, God appears. Vulnerable, open, ready, willing, God appears, in the most unexpected ways and shows us that there is another way.

In his book Barking to the Choir, Gregory Boyle tells us the story of Andres. Andres is a recovering gang member, who was abandoned by his mother and left homeless in Los Angeles at age 9. One day he came to work and tells Greg that he had gone through the park on his way home and in one of the park benches he encountered a homeless man, passed out, but shivering from the cold. He decided to take off his sweater and put it over the old man.

After a moment of silence He looks out and tells Greg, “I am not tellin’ ya this so you think I’m AAALLLLLLL that . . . I’m tellin ya all this cuz I know that bench . . . I’ve been on that bench.” (107)

God has been on our bench!! Good News of Great Joy!

So do not be afraid! Open your hearts and minds to the miracle and mystery that we celebrate this day. God has and is visiting us. God has and is re-making, re-creating, re-deeming. God is calling us, yes us . . .

Shepherd and Privileged,
forgotten and remembered,
poor and rich,
faithful and sell out,
fake and real,
us, all of us, into a new relationship,
a new status, a new being.

Good News of Great Joy!

This is good news! Love like God did us! See this baby? Love like that! Live like that!

I pray that today you are as baffled and as awestruck as I am. I pray that you awaken from your melancholic slumber and your syrupy sleep. Do you hear the angels sing?

Glory to God!! Peace to people on earth!

Our freedom and liberation are here!
Our humanity displayed,
Our divinity modeled.

Today We have a savior, healer, restorer, one who makes all things whole; today your salvation, our salvation, the salvation of the world has entered the world!

Good News of Great Joy Indeed!!

On Thirty-Nine

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We no longer have little ones at home. It really is hard to believe! It seems like yesterday that they were toddling, baby talking, and needed us for even the most basic things. I’m thankful for who they are becoming with each passing day and this year I’ve made a promise to myself not to miss a moment, not to miss a conversation, not to miss any opportunity to be with them. Living life with them is a humbling reminder that time is passing by!

Recently I’ve noticed some of those marks of time in me. I’ve looked at my hands and seen my father’s, the clippings at the barber shop have gray in them, my kids speak of my dad jokes and my receding hairline. Looking at myself in the mirror is a humbling reminder that time is passing by!

This year I took a sabbatical. I’m still trying to process the experience. I’m still trying to figure out what happened in those six weeks that made an impact, that changed me. What I do know is that it has awakened gratitude. For the steps I take every day, for the people I encounter, for the opportunity to be spouse, dad, son, brother, friend, and pastor. It might sound sappy or cliché but sabbatical has opened my eyes to the beauty of life and the importance of now.

My thirty-ninth year has been an adventure and a coming home.

It is so easy to forget who you are especially in a caring vocation. Easy to become so hyper focused on what you do that you forget what you be! Easy to not take the time to take stock, to examine, to reflect on what matters and who you are becoming. Easy to allow the expectations of others convince you that they reflect who your identity.

Today I’m thankful for those places and people that have shaped me and that remind me of who God has made me be. I’m thankful for my native land, its people, and its story. I’m thankful for my ancestors, all of them: colonizers, indigenous, and enslaved. I’m thankful that enemies and strangers became one, tragedy and violence birthed new life, and two young people decided that we would grow up together. I’m thankful for the companions in the journey that call me back and remind me. Companions who love me for who I am at that moment, and root me no matter where I am.

I am a blessed man. I am not alone. I am loved. I am . . . thirty-nine has taught me that, I’m ready for you 40th year!

In Memoriam X

 

Dear Garrett,

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Joy Harjo from “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet” in Conflict Resolution For Holy Beings: Poems

I’ve thought about you often in the last six weeks. As I was getting ready for my sabbatical I kept on thinking about those that would come alongside me on my journey. I thought about my ancestors, then I thought about those companions that have helped me find life in the midst of struggle. I knew for sure that you were with me!

More than once in the silence of hiking trails, prayer times, and monastery I could see you. In some ways, you cheered me on, reminded me again of what you taught me by your leaving. You, happy that I’m still living into the calling that I’m unable to live into without your intercession and the Spirit’s power.

A few months ago it came to mind that this was the 10th Anniversary of your leaving. In some ways, it is hard to believe, but then I look around at my own children and realize that time has indeed gone by, your playmates are now into their teen years, just like you would be.

Then there are those moments when the weight of these years without you make the time that has gone by so obvious. I can still see you waking up on that fateful day when I arrived and asking for your mom, I can still feel your warm forehead on my palm and your beautiful eyes. Eyes that I can still see, full of mischief, wonder, and possibility.

So you are still deeply missed!

There is a little boy in my congregation that has your eyes (mischief and wonder included). He’s become a reminder to me of your presence and the huge impact you’ve had in my life. Your leaving turned into life, eternal life, for me, today.

Some months ago I had a dream that I had died.  I felt peace as I closed my eyes one last time. Immediately I opened them again and I found myself in this perfect place. As I walked towards a group of buildings I saw a group of people that seemed to be gathered. There you were at the front of the group, with your smile and your eyes waiting for me. Behind you were many others that I’ve walked with during their leaving, all of you together waiting, smiles in your faces, making room for me.

I woke up thankful to have experienced the hope of resurrection. Thankful that even though not with us in body, you are with us and waiting for us. Thankful that life and love have been experienced, that your leaving did not ruin my call, my faith, and my hope even though it got close. Instead, it allowed me to experience a deeper understanding and a humbling awareness of the mysteries of life.

Today we’ll gather where you await resurrection. Today we grieve and celebrate with hopeful expectation. Today I know that you are waiting for me, till then I’ll keep on stirring, keep on praying, keep on inviting, keep on challenging, and I’ll keep on dreaming.

You have helped me welcome my spirit back, for that I am deeply grateful. Your leaving still bringing life. I’ll see you at the great feast!

Peace & Love, J+

Sunday Early Evening

Weekends are a flurry of activity. It is the one time of the week that we all gather. Worship has been prepared, rehearsals have taken place, and servant teams are ready to welcome, love, and serve. The sermon has been simmering, at times for months, but now it comes to life.

I’ve also prayed, worried, and wondered. Prayed that all who come will experience an encounter with God. Worried that something might not be in place, that people might not come, and that we are able to get out of the way. Wondered if I will see your faces, meet new people, and communicate the love of God in ways that will connect and transform.

I have also observed the world around us. This week we watched the struggle of immigrants and refugees. The continual animosity and division in our nation. As pastor and theologian I work hard at trying to listen to all who struggle while remembering that the bible tells us again and again that God sides with the struggling, the hungry, the forgotten, the stranger, the refugee, yes, no matter what political party or presidential candidate, the scriptures are clear about what our duty is as disciples of Jesus.

But even when it is clear, even when we know that love should guide all that we do, that we must proclaim the good news, I fear that my reminding the body of God’s call to love God, self, and neighbor might make some walk away from our shared life.

I have also observed and engaged our shared life. The illnesses, struggles, and challenges in your lives. The ways that God has seemed present and absent in your week. The need to remind you of God’s compassionate presence and grace. Our gathering a visible reminder that we are not alone and that salvation is near.

There is some relief once worship begins on Saturday at 5:30. We get to see you and meet your friends. We sing, pray, and hear a word. Saturdays are the beginning of the weekly assembly an important time of warming the space, of calling upon God to show up and make us God’s people again and again.

On my way home on Saturdays I hear my sermon, make notes of changes needed, and rehearse it at least once more.

It’s amazing how quickly Sunday morning arrives. My first cup of coffee is finished by the time I reach the parking lot, a second cup is consumed as last rehearsals are held and the welcome team arrives. Soon God’s people begin to gather, stories begin to be shared, places are found and coffee is consumed.

I still get nervous as worship begins, then again as I’m about to bring a word. For me, worship does not begin until we are gathered and it is not a sermon until I open my mouth and proclaim it to this body. As I proclaim I hear God’s word too, I watch you the body, trying as I proclaim to see what the Holy Spirit is doing among you as I hear what God is doing in me.

In between our times of worship, I listen. I hear your stories, I pray, I bless your children and grandchildren, and check in on your week.

As the last conversation is had, thoughts of the sermon for next week begin to flood my consciousness. Floating around are also the many stories I’ve heard, prayers said, and updates received.

As evening falls I walk around our common home, our place of worship, of gathering, and of stories. I sit in my office, look out the window and play through the day. I think about what God is doing among us, about our capacity to set the world on fire, about how our sufferings, struggles, and stories continue to shape us into a grace-full people, and about how blessed I am to be a leader among you.

 

The End is the Beginning

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Advent, a time of beginning, a time of ending. Advent, a time of expectation, of waiting, and of hoping. Advent, a time when salvation sneaks in, when needed most. A time when salvation shows up in the every day of life.

These are interesting days. Days when we wonder about God’s work in the world. Days when we are reminded that salvation is desperately needed, that our lives and our world do not reflect the fullness of God’s creation.

Unfortunately, year after year we must come face to face with our brokenness, with our need, with our sin-sick soul, and with the ways that all of creation still groans for salvation. We also must face our participation in structures of sin and death – the hatred, prejudice, and apathy about neighbor, the -isms too many to name, the ways we seem to have forgotten the centrality of the common good.

Advent invites us into reality, into the messiness of our condition, and into the hopeful expectation of new life. This requires that we are willing to embrace ending, death, and letting go. It also requires us, in this season filled with distraction, to stay rooted in the now, to sow seeds of peace, justice, and love today.

Completeness is coming, healing is near, new life is around the corner . . .

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
God with Us!
We need you, with us.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
God with and in the world,
We need you, in us.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
God through the most vulnerable,
We need you, through us.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
God for all of creation,
We need you, give us new life.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
We are hungry, hurt, haggard,
hopeful, end becoming beginning.

Why #givegrace?

© All rights reserved by mollie | corbett | photography

© All rights reserved by mollie | corbett | photography

This past Sunday we gathered as a community to eat together and to hear about how our financial resources continue to allow us to live into God’s call for our life together as a congregation. Some of us met each other for this first time — over half of attendees at the meal have been with us twelve months or less — others were able to finally catch up with friends and neighbors.

We have much to celebrate. Our children and youth ministry continue to grow and each weekend we have many guests that are looking for a place to call home. Those that are new to our community speak to our welcoming atmosphere as a primary reason why they choose to return. Our new people describe our congregation as loving, kind, and filled with energy. Wherever I go in Shreveport folks tell me that they have heard great things about our church.

We are blessed in so many ways!!

As I walked away from our time together on Sunday afternoon I began to wonder about the impact that our congregation has had, is having, and will have in the future. I began to wonder about the stories that illustrate our impact, that tell of the many ways that we are encountering God in this place and of the ways that this place is helping each of us see God in places unexpected.

I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we have received it!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we cannot help but respond in generosity!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we know that our congregation is needed in this city and beyond!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because there are so many children, youth, and adults experiencing God’s unconditional love!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are finding healing from our addictions, freedom from the things that keep us bound, and redemption into new life, abundance, and joy!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are a unique community called by God to provide a place for ALL people!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because everywhere I go I meet people who have disconnected from the church and are looking for a place where they can be who God has called them to be!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because our identity is rooted in service of neighbor, especially those who would be easily forgotten, who have been ignored!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we have been called to be a diverse community that reflects God’s love for ALL people, no matter our story!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are a community willing to live in the tension of unanswered questions and the messiness of life stories!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we believe God is found in unexpected places!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because our only requirement to come to the table is to be hungry for Jesus!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we know that being a follower of Jesus is more than just showing up at church or talking about Jesus, it’s about loving ALL and growing in that love!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because only together we can live into our call to welcome, love, and serve!

I am so thankful and honored to be one of your many leaders. Leading in this season towards a fruitful and life-giving future is challenging but extremely rewarding. Leading in this season inspires me because our unique community is sorely needed.

So why will you #givegrace in 2017? Tell me in the comments here on the blog or in the Facebook comments. I cannot wait to read of all the ways that inspire you to make our 2017 ministry possible!

Christianity, Politics, & #givegrace

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Politics & Religion

I am sure that you have heard the old adage to never speak about politics and religion. Often political seasons come and go and the church remains silent. When issues come up that hit the nerve of congregants the pastor is asked to address them, when addressed there are always those that do not want the church to become political or be political.

In some ways, it would be easier to follow the adage. Not talking about so-called political things stops the pastor from getting into trouble, from upsetting people, and might provide a political free oasis in the midst of all the chatter.

This week we begin a series of sermons that will hopefully provide some helpful context for how Christian people can and should discuss politics. Its purpose is dialogue, the learning of some shared language that will hopefully shape our community towards a different way to speak about difficult subjects.

What is the relationship between politics and God’s kingdom? What does it look like for us to engage one another and our neighbors and friends in political discussions based upon our faith in Jesus Christ? How can we model civil discourse in such a polarized political landscape? What are some key values that should drive our political decisions?

I invite you to become part of this important conversation in the next three weeks!

#givegrace

This coming Sunday we will gather for a preview of our #givegrace campaign. We will celebrate the many that have become members of our body in the last year and the many ways that we have made an impact in the lives of the people around us. I ask you to begin praying for the way that God is inviting you to invest in our congregation so that others can experience Grace in 2017.

We have a generous congregation and I know that each of you will response in gratitude to grace received through your financial investment in God’s kingdom through our congregation. All of us together making sure that others are welcomed, loved, and sent to serve!

Can’t wait for the weekend!

Very Married: A Review

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The problem with marriage is that it ends every night after making love, and it must be rebuilt every morning before breakfast.

Gabriel García-Márquez

The music begins and the couple walks proudly and anxiously towards the future, a future together. Decisions have been made, preparations completed, and now it’s time for covenant making, vow taking, or maybe just contract signing. No matter what, life together begins.

As one who gets the joy of witnessing and officiating at these public/private, sacred/secular, end/beginning type of events I’ve often wondered if there is something that can prepare the couple for this momentous event. Would this couple take vows if their future life together was revealed to them? Would that vision help them discern or prepare them?

Maybe it’s best that Hallmark cards, romantic comedies, Instagram pictures, and the wedding industry monopolize the marriage press! Or maybe we were just waiting for Katherine Willis Pershey to provide us with the revelation that all engaged and married couples needed, a revelation of the beauty and trials of married life.

Very Married: Fieldnotes on Love and Fidelity is not for the faint of heart. Pershey’s poetic prose leads us openly yet carefully through the landscape of married life. As she aptly tells us the “agony, ecstasy, and tedium of wedlock.” (18) This is not the stuff that we are used to hearing about nor the kind of journey that we expect from one who is both married and who officiates at marriages. Yet Very Married is the book needed to awaken all of us to the beauty, reality, and poetry that is life together.

Very Married sets itself apart in how humbly it speaks to those of us who have ears to hear. Pershey’s tone is rooted in the Christian practice of testimony, the humble recognition of God’s presence in the midst of life. This testimony is not just an individual encounter with God but the result of living life in covenant with another. Her vulnerability and honesty are palpable as she guides us through the inner life of one who desires to live life together with another yet found herself ill-prepared for the reality of what that meant.

As she tells her story we quickly realize that all of us come to life together unprepared and yet it is there, in our willingness to recognize the mystery, that grace comes visiting, that blessing becomes activated.

My favorite part of the wedding ceremony is the blessing of the marriage. As I wrap my stole around the hands of the couple I invoke the Spirit. I ask for the Spirit to make them fruitful, to make them one, to help them recognize, like Pershey, that “I know now, and I am known now, in marriage.”

This knowing comes with joys and sorrows. It tests our capacity to be faithful, to stay attentive to our chosen over the long term. It tests our capacity to forgive, to reconcile, and to begin again. It also tests our capacity to love another as we live life with them.

There is yet more for us to know of each other, physically, spiritually, emotionally. And as husband and wife we have the incredible freedom to explore each other without hesitation or shame.

Katherine Willis Pershey in Very Married: Field Notes on Love & Fidelity, 94

The struggles of life together challenge our self-centeredness, immaturity, and desire for control. God uses this way of life to transform us, or as my United Methodist tradition calls it, to “sanctify” us. Pershey’s willingness to share with us her journey in grace allows all of us to identify the God moments in our own relationships and to recognize that “even a family’s sorrows give way to gratitude, eventually.”(164) Pershey’s candor reminds us that perseverance, tenacity, and humility are key components to becoming very married.

Katherine Willis Pershey does not shy away from the difficult topics connected to married life. From pre-marital sexuality, infidelity, and submission to same-sex marriage, divorce, and death, Pershey guides us with humor, humility, and understanding. Like a faithful pastor, she shines a light behind the closed doors of covenant life. Along the way she gives us hope that in the midst of the many challenges that marriage faces today “[t]here’s no shame in needing covenant to live.”(210)

So take up and read! In Very Married we are gifted with an invitation to a new-old way of living life together. Pershey gifts us with a faithful blueprint to the daily rebuilding of this thing we call marriage. Now is up to us, letting our very married life end daily by making love and following the blueprint to rebuild it, again and again, before breakfast!

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Thankful to Herald Press for providing me an advanced copy of the book for this review.

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