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A Day at the Laundromat

Every time I read through the gospels I am reminded that Jesus was constantly on the move. He went from town to town and gathered people around him. Though he did spend time in the temple (to turn tables over) and in the synagogue (to make the congregation mad) the majority of his time was spent with the everyday people as they lived their life. From tax collectors collecting taxes—and then being called to follow—to a Samaritan woman at the well, to an evening house call at a religious leader’s house, Jesus went where people were found.

It is in those places that the presence of God’s kingdom was experienced. Healings, restorations, exorcisms, resuscitations, and feedings happened in the midst of every day life. His teachings were often the offshoot of conversations with the powerful, religious, and educated. Even those teaching moments mostly happened among the people. In fact it is interesting that the one time that we hear of happening in the temple, his teaching was so radical that people wanted to kill him!

So I’ve been wondering why church folks spend so much time with other church folks? Why do so much of what we consider church stuff happens in the campus of congregational buildings?

When I was in Seminary I lived in student housing at a place called Turner Village. There we lived among other seminary students and were able to share the ups and down of life together. We celebrated the unexpected check in the mail, the good grade that was hard to get, and the special revelation received during our internship placement. Some of these connections happened at the mailbox or as we were doing and going but most of it happened at the laundromat on the basement level of one of the buildings.

The laundromat becoming a third place, a gathering place were stories were shared and the realities of life spoken. It was real, at times the most real place that we could find.

Since those days we’ve had our share of laundromat moments. There was the one behind the apartment complex we lived in during our last year in seminary. The one we visited the time that the dryer broke and the ones we would drive by on our way to a misional site. Each time I thought that if Jesus was hanging out today, he would most likely have a laundromat or two that he would frequent.

There we all have something in common: we need clean clothes. We also are paying top dollar for a service but when you do not have the cash (nor the credit) to buy a washer and dryer you have no choice. In our case today is a temporary inconvenience, but for most whom we met it was their way of life. They gather mostly on Saturdays and Sundays and attempt to get their laundry done. T.V.’s mounted on walls to entertain as you wait and a coke machine ready to make you caffeinated. There are also folding tables that make it easier to fold all your clothes. As all of this is happening you share stories, frustrations, and hopes.

Tomorrow I end my sermon series called “I believe” with a sermon on “I believe in the Church.” I am wondering what it would look like to be a body that lives its identity beyond the walls of our sanctuary spaces? A body that draws others to gather for praise and thanksgiving due to its commitment to being disciples in the places where they live, work, and play?

People need to experience Jesus. All of us do. I believe that if we took the ministry of Jesus on the road, if we went as a people who healed, reconciled, exorcised, raised the dead, and brought good news the kingdom of God would be experienced. The people at the laundromat would say “today salvation has come!”

It would change everything . . . Enough for now and can’t wait till tomorrow.

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In Memoriam XII

There are keener griefs than God.
They come quietly, and in plain daylight,
leaving us with nothing, and the means to feel it.

Christian Wiman in “This Mind of Dying” from Every Riven Thing: Poems

Dear Garrett,

You would have graduated this year. Your peers celebrated and we did too. We thought of you and wondered, what could have been? For me I imagined the Facebook pictures from your family and friends. You with cap and gown on, the dimples as you smiled, and the deep yet slightly mischievous look in your eyes, as you thought about what was next.

What could have been is an interesting exercise. It is both self-defeating and hopeful. It helps us grieve the realities lived while at the same time helping us recognize the reality that has not borne fruit. I’ve found over the years that art and poetry help me process these “what might have been” moments. They giving me the images and words to see in healthier ways, dream in more constructive ways, and heal in scar laden ways. Such is the reality of what might have been’s.

Last year I decided not to write. I was unsure why? I told myself that after ten years I maybe had nothing else to say. Truth be told the griefs were mounting after many years of pastoral ministry and they were close to overwhelming. I thought of you often during those days and was reminded that you were alongside God and the communion and I was hopeful that you were interceding on my behalf. You asking God to help me out, help me continue what your leaving sealed in me.

At the time I did not see it clearly. Too much grief, fear, failure, and loss. But also too many loves, connections, and rootedness. A few moments in those days reminded me of those hours when we waited and prayed. Again tears becoming beads in rosaries, supplication the mysteries, hours the repetition. God seeming so absent and yet so near. Though hopeful something deep within said that it would not turn out as we wished. And again it did not . . .

Today I find myself in a new place of ministry. A place that does not know your story just yet, maybe I should say “our story?” On my third day here I ended up having to make a hospital call. As I went down the hallway to my destination I passed by their Wall of Heroes and I though of you. Then just this past week the local LOPA (Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency) called the church and asked to meet with me so that we could meet and she could tell me all about what they do. I smiled and told her I looked forward to the conversation!

So, you found me again. Or better yet you reminded me again that you are with me always. Say hello to my Abuelo for me and to the other saints that I’ve had the honor to walk with. Intercede for me, that the “what might have been’s” become sources of hope, healing, and reminders that new life is always around the corner.

I’ll see you at the Great Feast!

Peace & Love, Juan Carlos+

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From the Cutting Room Floor: Saving & Losing

All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them.

Luke 9:24

In our baptism we confess Jesus Christ as savior and we promise to serve Christ as our Lord. I’ve often asked myself what it means to confess and promise these things: What does it mean that Jesus is my “savior?” And what does it look like to serve him as my “Lord?”

This morning in worship we heard about Jesus’ identity. At first we heard about what others thought of him. Some thought he was the reincarnation of John the Baptist – the preparer of the way and the one who could have easily been misidentified as an old prophet; other thought he was Elijah who called down fire from heaven to destroy the priests of Baal, who spoke such words to queen Jezebel that she wanted to kill him, and who did amazing signs and wonders. Then there were those who thought he was one of the great prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and maybe even Ezekiel. It seemed like at every turn the focus was exclusively on the sign, wonders, and the strong teaching instead of what those things pointed towards.

Maybe this is why he asked them to be silent about who he was. If people found out that he was the anointed one of God all sorts of predisposed expectations would be added to the already crowded gossip mill.

What he made clear could be one of the most uncomfortable reality for believers today. To be the anointed one of God does not mean becoming royal figure with all the power, splendor, and wealth. To be the anointed one of God does not mean becoming one of the ancient prophets who called down calamity to all the enemies of God, including yet no limited to those within the people of Israel who did not follow the rules. To be the anointed one of God does not mean to become a powerful priest who performs the mandated sacrifices in order to appease a wrathful deity and due to the power and influence that such figure has to use it for his own benefit.

What it does mean? SACRIFICE

The kind of sacrifice that is centered on what it means to be truly human. Sacrifice that recognizes that the world does not revolve around us, what we do, our place in society, or what we can produce. Sacrifice that recognizes that we are made to live life in community with others and that only in that community can we see God. Sacrifice that forces us to forgive others as we are forgiven, extend grace as we have been extended it, and see the world with kin-dom eyes and not ours. This is also the kind of sacrifice, the kind of cross, that reorders our life, and that is unable to be lived into without the presence and power of Grace. In other words this kind of life means that we surrender to the presence and power of Jesus, allowing Jesus to live not just in us but through us.

No wonder Jesus told Nicodemus that we needed to be born again. This birthing takes time and is dangerous, fragile, and painful. It is easier to convince ourselves that we have arrived or that if we just work harder we can achieve salvation. It is easier to hold on to the life we have and try to make it sound like it is the way of Jesus. It is harder to allow ourselves to die again and again. Harder to surrender, let go, and allow the Spirit of God to transform us through and through.

Today we might find ourselves like the disciples long ago who declared:

This message is hard. Who can hear it?

John 6:60b

And

Then who can be saved?

Luke 18:26b

I’m with you, so often I have asked God the same. At times I’ve done so with fists up in the air. Me and my toxic obsession to earn everything and my struggle with letting go and receive. Me and my toxic control issues and difficulty letting go. Me and my toxic pride and individualism that often looks a lot like a God complex. It is at this point that I remind myself that there is only one savior and that I am not one. It is here that I remind myself that I am not the lord of my life, that I have given myself to serve only one Lord and that Lord is Jesus the Christ.

You, like me, might be thinking, but this seems impossible?

Jesus replied, “What is impossible for humans is possible for God.”

Luke 18:27
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Still Thinking About Sin

Julio Rionaldo – Unsplash

This past weekend I spoke about sin. We rehearsed the story of the woman with the alabaster jar in the Gospel according to Luke. Jesus reminds us that “the one who is forgiven little loves little.” What I read here is that the more aware that we become of our need for divine grace, the more that we recognize that often our desires are disordered, that we are dis-eased, that we are a broken people, that on a good day we are bound by gods of our own making, that as the prayer of confession tells us we have “rebelled against [God’s] love,” the more that we open our hearts and minds to the image of God in others and their own capacity to experience healing, wholeness, restoration, redemption, new life, and salvation.

Often once a sermon is over my brain keeps on ticking. I read over the preparation notes, look at the parts of the sermon edited out due to time constraints, rabbit hole avoidance, or uncooked ideas, and through this exercise the sermon is still doing its work in me. Sometimes I can easily shake it off and move on to the following week but then there are the other times, times like this week, when my soul is working in parallel thinking about last week’s word, it’s rhythms still simmering slowly, while at the same time bringing up the heat on the word that is coming.

Sermons are living things. Often they take a life of their own and begin to shine a light on what is happening around us. Now a word of warning here: I alongside many other pastors often stay silent about the things happening in our world for fear of being rejected, demeaned, misunderstood, and/or attacked. That too begins to mess with your soul for often I am reminded that the good news of Jesus Christ has an edge and if we are unwilling to speak to how the good news of Jesus is or is not seen in the world around us then, what are doing?

We are living interesting days in our country and in the world. This week we have had racially charged remarks by a president (and as one who has been told to “go back where you came from!” I can tell you it is racial and demeaning and sinful), we continue to argue about immigration while at the same time seeing images of human beings in overcrowded cages robbed of their agency and used as political pawns (by all political parties), and in my home country of Puerto Rico we have seen the people go to the streets to demand that the corrupt and morally bankrupt government of Dr. Ricardo Rosello Navarro is put to an end.

Through all of this I’ve been in conversations with friends, colleagues, and church folks. We have faced the aftermath of a storm that could have been much worst, death of loved ones from illness, newly diagnosed terminal illness, vocational questions, spiritual surprises, and struggles of day to day lives. In the midst of all of this one common theme emerges: SIN is very real, it is systemic and it personal, communal and individual, its tentacles are far reaching and it settles in our soul bringing about self-deception, do goodism, and a personal God complex (some things never change in millennia of human development). Sin as condition also makes us comfortable with making our primary identity ANYTHING other than Jesus Christ – here’s when a full read of both Exodus and Romans might do us some good. Idolatry is alive and well and its often expressed in us by the primary identities we choose to claim.

In our baptismal covenant we are asked:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
   reject the evil powers of this world,
   and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
   to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
   in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
   to people of all ages, nations, and races?

The Baptismal Covenant I – The United Methodist Hymnal

In baptism we are grafted into a new kinship. The bounds of flesh and blood, nationality and geographical boundaries no longer the primary identity. We sisters and brothers with other baptized one, we sharing a common renewed reality, we now empowered by the Holy Spirit to be Jesus in the world. We also driven by that same Spirit to healthy patterns of re-ordering our lives, of repentance, confession, and forgiveness. We in community developing a new imagination that allows us to rehearse God’s will on EARTH as it is in heaven.

  • This means that our being American is not most important.
  • This means that we call out the explicit and implicit racism that continues to infect our society, including but not limited to any ideology that implies that one segment of humanity is superior than an other, a nation not just great but better, a language not just ours but better, a culture, way of doing things, ways of thinking not just ours but better.
  • This means that we call our leaders of nations to the common good for ALL people and work even harder at protecting the God image bearing identity of those that we ideologically disagree with. This includes but is not limited to, a decision that we do not separate children from their parents, we do not mass incarcerate people for attempting to exercise their human right, and we demand that our immigration policy is both clear and just.
  • This means that we reject our idolatry of political parties in the United States and the sinful and harmful ideology that if the “right” party rises to power that the kingdom of God will be made known; that God has a preferential option for conservatives or liberals (remember that Jesus’ preference is for the poor, forgotten, marginalized, and oppressed – see Matthew 5); that a different political ideology makes the other your enemy, or non-Christian, or __________________ . That my “party right or wrong” just like “my country right or wrong” are ideologies of idolatry and must be rejected and free us from the important role that we have to be prophets who call our community back to the ways of God’s kingdom – healing, wholeness, shalom, common good, interconnection, and one people.
  • This means that Christian communities across this nation are at the forefront of the practice of repentance, confession, and forgiveness. As Desmond Tutu so aptly teaches us in The Book of Forgiving, a community committed to a cycle of reconciliation is a community willing to name and hear the difficult stories of harm doing without defensiveness, protectiveness, and blaming (remember that lack of taking ownership and blaming are key markers of the human condition that keep us from God’s transformative love as Genesis 3 clearly shows us).
  • This means that we practice humility. The Christian community itself is divided ideologically, theologically, doctrinally, racially, ethnically. Many of the horrors inflicted upon other communities have been committed in the name of Jesus (e.g. colonialism, ethnic cleansing, slavery) and the remnants of these ways of thinking about God (like being male, being white, being American, etc.) still haunt us.
  • This means that we tell the stories and are willing to be uncomfortable. After all God is with us ready to forgive, transform, and make a way. Jesus often tells us to not be afraid for God is with us, especially in discord. Unfortunately as I pastor my observation is that our unwillingness to be made uncomfortable is keeping us from enjoying the fruits of sanctifying grace of becoming a kindom people, a light and a life to all that we encounter.

I’ve already filled my cheeks with crumbs so I’ll stop here. I will confess that I am an idealist. I believe that we can live in difference, we can treat all of humanity with dignity and respect, we can disagree and still see Jesus in each other, we can work together across difference for the common good. I believe that our nation and world can be better places for all people and that the way of Jesus calls us to work towards that reality until Christ returns to make all things right. I also believe that confession is essential, that often I fail to live into my own standards, that I need the community to help me find Jesus again and again, and that my fear has often kept me quiet too long.

I know lean on God’s mercy and grace as I continue to think about these things as I do so I mediate on the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians:

Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.

Galatians 6:9-10
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The Calm Before the Storm

I was preparing for my second Sunday and enjoying the camaraderie of Vacation Bible School. In the midst of it there were hospital visits, get to know you conversations, and the sounds of children walking in front of my office on their way to nap time. In other words in a short time I felt at home and was living into pastoral life in the most mundane of ways.

I really was not paying attention at the weather. I’m used to sticking my head out the door in the mornings to get a general sense of the weather for the day. Occasionally I open up my weather app so that I can officially complain about how high the heat index will be that day. After that I let experience take over, hot and muggy in the morning, spicy hot sun the afternoon, and a thunderstorm with shower in the late afternoon and early evening, then even muggier, the just plain hot at night. Repeat the next day.

Just yesterday I was doing a bit of exploring around the campus and reminded myself about a shower trailer, cots, restrooms with showers in the gym, and the huge kitchen that is also housed there. I made a mental note of how helpful these blessings are when you are located in an area prone to tropical storms. And then . . . “Possible tropical system” which now turns into Tropical Storm Barry (and maybe even Hurricane Barry!)

As I look out the window in my office and finish a few things in case the electricity goes out I think about the church as the hub in times like these. Not just the sanctuary building or the campus where the community gathers. But the church, the body of Christ, scattered and yet gathered in Spirit as we prepare, support one another, and become available to become light and life no matter what the storm brings our way.

I don’t think any leader prefers a storm early in their tenure. I don’t either. But what I do know is that at times like these the people of God come together and I am reminded that whether in Alexandria, Ragley, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, or Houma, the people of God are the people of God, and wherever we are we’ll offer all Christ!

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My Believing Journey: Cutting Room Floor

Every week in sermon preparation there are some things that end up on the cutting room floor. Some weeks there’s so much of it that I choose to write a summary as an extension of my sermon for that week. Look for future “Cutting Room Floor” here by subscribing to spiritstirrer.flywheelstaging.com.

“Happy is anyone who doesn’t stumble along the way because of me.”
Luke 7:23 (CEB)

One of the many things that I’ve had to struggle with in my life with God is the difficulty of the way of Jesus. It is easy to be warmed by the many inspiring things that the gospel tells us and ignore the things that make us uncomfortable, make us think, or just seem out of reach. As I tell my congregations the gospel often “messes with us.” It is in this grittiness that our salvation is worked out with fear and trembling. For it is in the reality that we cannot on our own power live into the way of Jesus that we become ever aware of our desperate need for divine grace.

This week’s gospel was no different. If the disciples of John wanted an easy answer or a simple answer they were out of luck. If John imprisoned wanted a long excursus, a series of doctrinal statements, or a guarantee he was out of luck too. We know that talk is cheap and beautiful words can be deceiving. Yet because they are we preferred them, we lulled by the beautiful display at Target and in awe of the hamburger and fries before us on a commercial.

As one of my favorite theologians, James K.A. Smith says humans are “creatures of desire.” So our imaginations are easily captured by what makes us feel good, comforts us, and gives us an instant “fix.”

Imagine now the conversation the disciples of John had on their way back to visit John in prison. Signs and wonders had been done before them, amazing signs and wonders. Yet Jesus did not free John nor hinted at anything that would get close to that reality. Jesus did not damn the Roman oppressors nor the religious ones. Instead he demonstrated the kind of kin-dom that he came to establish: one that placed healing, wholeness, salvation, completeness for all people at its center.

All unreachable by us, all a gift of divine grace!

Since then I have often visited this passage to remind me of our task as Christ’s body the Church. By the power of the Spirit we who have experienced this freeing, justifying, and sanctifying grace carry on the work of Jesus. This seems impossible, we giving sight, we giving legs to walk, we cleansing diseases, we giving ears to hear, we raising people from the dead, and we bearing good news to those that need it most.

Yet we remember that what seems impossible for us is possible for God. That we too are those constantly healed, freed, and surprised we good news. This is why we are the Church and that way of life is what I have been called to lead this body towards. I too am often overwhelmed by the task and reminded that it is impossible for me to lead in these ways but that by the power of the Spirit I can indeed lead, share, empower, and bring good news. I can be an agent of healing to all I encounter, I can offer ALL the Christ that I’ve met along live’s way.

As we begin our life together I am wondering how you see Jesus’ healing ministry around us? What would it look like for us to be a community that gives sight, hearing, freedom, life, and good news? What are the dreams for our Jesus centered ministry in the next 100 years?

From the beginning of time the Spirit of the Lord has hovered over the chaos brining life, light, order, peace, and creative power. That power is still at work in us, in our congregation and in the world, I believe it and I look forward to living it among the people called First United Methodist Houma.

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Easter People

Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”

Luke 24:49 (CEB)

I am thankful that Easter is a season and not a day. Our human nature–conditioned to moving on quickly–might return us to life as if no resurrection has happened. Now that Lent is over and with it any sacrifices made or new practices undertaken we might happily return to a pre-lenten state. Eastertide comes to continue the resurrecting work that has begun, to remind us that resurrection is about everything.

Resurrection is about “a change of heart and mind.”
Resurrection is about dying and being born anew.
Resurrection is about Jesus taking over our very beings.
Resurrection is about thoughts, actions, and ways of looking at the world and being in the world.
Resurrection is a daily choice we make by the power of the Spirit.
Resurrection is about our being grafted into the body of Christ called the Church.
Resurrection is about bearing the fruit worthy of repentance.
Resurrection is about being agents of Christ’s love to all of creation!

But how are we to be this way?

We are unable to be this way left to our own devices. Our bent is to sin and death, to the ways that we continually “rebel against” God’s love. To think that we are God, that we have it together, that we have no need of constant conversion. Soon we find ourselves like the disciples on Holy Saturday, remembering, recalling, and returning.

Jesus knew this! So he sends his Spirit to be with us always. This Spirit guides us, directs us, convicts us, and easters our hearts and lives into being Christ. The Spirit also connects us to God and to the body of Christ called the Church, to the community of the Risen Lord. The Spirit deepens our being and makes possible our bearing fruit worthy of repentance.

People of God, Easter People, raise your voices, pay attention to the Spirit at work in you. Be open to our continual dying and rising and allow Jesus to BE in you, to easter you, to direct you in being love in the world. Could it be that the power promised long ago is still possible today?

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Back to Everyday Life: A Holy Saturday Reflection

Photo by v2osk on Unsplash

I’ve often thought about Holy Saturday. The disciples have seen their master and Lord assassinated by the state for being a threat to the empire. They might remember that Jesus told them that he would return but now as they face grief and pain that promise seems far fetched. Peter can’t believe that he denied Jesus and the rest of the disciples seem to go back to life as usual.

Jesus was not the first messiah to find himself dead as an insurrectionist. There had been others and although the disciples believed that Jesus was the true Messiah that had been promised you can imagine their disappointment when he died, like the other ones. Though there was much talk around Jerusalem about what had happened it still did not change the reality: Jesus was dead and they had to find a way to move forward.

Holy Saturday reminds us that we should not hurry to celebration. It is normal to grieve, to feel like you have failed, and to try to go back to life as usual. It is normal on a day like today to feel a bit hopeless. What if what we have believed in is merely fiction? What if the one that we have given our lives to is not who they said they were? What now? Denial is a powerful force so “normality” is often the best tool to avoid dealing with reality. So we too go back to normal, even though nothing is the same.

On this Holy Saturday let us reflect on the sense of hopelessness that the disciples felt long ago. Let us go about our lives like nothing has happened, like everything is the same. Let us also meditate on a God is present even when silent, at work even when it seems idle, and caring even when it seems like no one does. My hunch is that it is in this “in between” place that our salvation begins to take hold.

So people of God, do not hurry. Sit in the uncomfortableness of the unknown, unfinished, and unclear. Sit in the possibility that our salvation might not be near, that waiting might be our best bet. Sit in the hope that no matter how dim, joy, salvation, new life, is around the corner. The light of Christ unable to be conquered by darkness.

In the silence of today, pay attention, for the promise will be fulfilled!

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A New Commandment: A Maundy Thursday Reflection

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

A “new commandment,” the phrase perks my ears. Though I am not great at keeping commandments, I want to. I like to know what is expected of me, I want to make those around me happy, I want to be known as someone who does what is expected, what is right. So if there is a new commandment, I want to know what it is.

I, ready with pen and paper, or my iPhone to take a picture of it written on a whiteboard.

The disciples knew commandments well. They were deeply familiar with the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law. These commandments provided a guideline for what made them distinctive from the other nations around them, these included prescriptions about what to eat, who to socialize with, how to socialize with others, relationships, and how to worship.

So you can imagine how attentive they must have been to hear this new commandment.

Or maybe they were not so attentive . . . when you have so many of them, would you want to add another one?

If they had been paying attention this whole situation could have been avoided. The entire evening would have probably gone differently. They would have known that his time was ending, they would have remembered that Jesus is the bread of life and would continue to be past his death, they would have known this “new commandment” because Jesus had already explained it to a teacher of the law as they walked towards Jerusalem.

Today though, Jesus went beyond talking and into clear, crisp, non-arguable action. He gathers with those he loves–even one who would betray him–and breaks bread.

This most intimate act
of calloused hands,
passing around the fruit of the earth,
conversation that rehearsed the day,
laughter from the joy of celebrating,
a holiday that reminds
that they are a free people,
because of God’s bountiful grace.

Soon the dry, cracked, lips share one cup;
the beloved and the betrayer,
the zealot and the sell-out,
the doubter and the determined,
Sipping,
Passing,
Broken and poured out,
Remembering.
Made one,
not because of who they were
but because of who Jesus is.

This gathering and its call to continue it would have been enough. The reminder that we too must be a people being broken and poured out. Constantly gathering with others who’s commonality is simply being human.

Gathering to satisfy the human need for nutrition and connection.

Gathering to remember that it is in dying that new life emerges, in brokenness and suffering that transformation is found.

That should have been enough . . .

But as if we needed a more difficult task than eating across the boundaries that we have set for ourselves Jesus models even more.

Imagine with me this teacher, master, and friend. This miracle worker, wonder maker, and wandering master now removing his outer garments and kneeling before them: the master before the students, the lord before the servants, the creator before the creature.

No wonder Peter refused at first . . . this breaks the “natural order of things!”

As if that was not enough now a pronouncement: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” and “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” and “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this EVERYONE will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

That’s it! That’s the new way, the new commandment, the new guiding principle, the new clarifying statement . . . and yet . . .

Maundy Thursday is an annual reminder that our way is not God’s way. Though difficult to acknowledge the reality is that humans tend to behave like life is about power, when Jesus demonstrates that is about servanthood. We think is about control, and Jesus shows us that it is about letting go (about surrender), we think it is about living comfortably and Jesus shows us is about death.

We like Peter might want to stop Jesus from washing us . . . maybe that baby should bemoan their baptism, should do all in its power to avoid the waters.

Maybe pastors should put a warning sign in the baptismal font, a surgeon’s general warning on the baptismal certificate:

Warning: Baptism causes death of false self and brings about Christlikeness, Compassion, Love, Mercy, and a supernatural ability to forgive. May complicate living life as you are used to.

Tonight we renew our commitment to the way of Jesus.
To the mystery of Grace at work in our lives,
we chose to walk the way,
the uncertain pathway to the cross,
we choosing to enter
into the mystery of our faith,
we being washed, broken,
and poured out,
we remembering that we have been initiated into the way of Jesus,
a life of servanthood and humility,
These virtues being the fruit of God’s love that continues to transform our lives.

Tonight it does seem impossible,
unlikely, scary, uncertain,
and dramatic.
It is dangerous,
it will require sacrifice,
It will also call us to take off our outer garments,
the masks that we wear,
the fears that we hold,
the prejudices that bind us,
and the uncertainties that make us anxious.
It will also call us to pay attention,
to go on the slow journey,
the pilgrimage to a new way of being.

Tonight I invite us to stay the course
for death though near,
will not have the last say!

Community, Discipleship, Forgiveness, umc, Uncategorized, United Methodist

Hungry for the Light of Christ

As the year begins to wind down I’m thinking about the experiences that have marked me this year. There has been many encounters, moments, and conversations that will stay with me into the future. It is my practice to reflect on the moments that have given life, the moments that have broken my heart, and the moments that have taught me something about myself, others, and the world. Being marked is more about lessons learned than harm done. It is about memory and how that memory will shape my future.

It is not unusual that I am doing this assessment (examen) during Advent. I really believe that this season of hope-filled waiting is the perfect time to ask about how Christ is being born in me, how I am preparing the way to that birth, and how am I fooling myself into the same old ways. It turns out that human beings are really good at telling ourselves that we are good. The hopeful expectation of Advent moves me to look around, pay attention, and become more aware of the stuff that the Holy Spirit is up to in me.

In a recent note to my leaders I talked about the importance of confession. About the difficult yet freeing admonition from John the Baptizer to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Confession tills the soil and fertilizes it so that it can become fruitful. I know for me it means being open to sharing with trusted spiritual companions the ways that I have missed the mark in living the way of Jesus, the tendencies of my soul to idolatry, and the number of other ways that I am still bound to sin and death. Not so that I feel sorry for myself, but so that I hear again the words of forgiveness and reconciliation in an accountable way. So that I can allow the Spirit of God to heal my sin sick soul as I—by God’s grace—walk each day more closely to Jesus than I did the day before.

The water that nourishes the soil in repentance is penance. Not penance as obligatory busy work to earn our forgiveness instead penance as the practice that re-orders our soul into a more faithful and full Christlikeness and reminds us of the breath of God’s grace for us. These practices—prayer, fasting/abstinence, seeking forgiveness, serving the poor, almsgiving— are the same means of Grace that sustain our life in Christ, in penance we commit to these in community as a way to accountably and intentionally restore the joy of our salvation.

On Advent we go from darkness to light. For me this means from hiddenness to revelation, from obscure to evident, and from vague to clear. Love becoming more visible, its transforming fruit, more powerful. It begins deep in our souls but as it comes it begins to take over our entire lives and soon the lives of those around us, then the life of the world. This is not idealism or some romanticized notion of holidays. It is the promise of a God with Us!

I am committed to continuing working out my salvation with fear and trembling. I am committed to practicing the means of Grace as pathways to live in God. I am committed to constant conversion which means, constant repentance, a constant awareness of my need for grace. I am also committed to life together with the people of God for as John Wesley reminded us:

Solitary religion is not to be found there. “Holy Solitaries” is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than Holy Adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection.(fn)

I am also committed to a more disciplined life. This includes a more engaged connection with my covenant partners, the people who tell me the truth who remind me that I am forgiven and help me stay in love with God. It also means to be more attentive to my rhythms in the every day of life. To the presence of God in the everyday and in structuring my day in ways that I can be more present and more productive.

In the end as I make my own journey from darkness to light I am filled with gratitude. I live a blessed life, a life filled with love, joy, and abundance, a life where I get to live into my calling as a follower of Jesus who happens to pastor. It is also a life filled with possibility, good news, and opportunities to make a difference. My prayer now is that I remember all of this when the difficult seasons come in 2019.