It’s finished.

It’s over.  The summer field placement at St. Paul’s.  Richard and I finished up the last of what we needed to do; now it’s just the assessments that need to be done. My blog’s subtitle, “Encountering and Sharing Christ at St. Paul’s Senior Homes” will be retired with this 10th and last blog.  Or will it?

During our time here, we had other things going on out in the world aside from St. Paul’s… one of those events was the General Convention.  I listened to our Presiding Bishop-elect’s sermon at the General Convention, and was captured with the title of his sermon “Go!” and also a quote (I am paraphrasing here) “God loves you just the way you are; but he doesn’t intend for you to stay that way!”

When I was assigned the  Spring Theological Field Study (2) then Summer Field Placement, I considered them  tasks to be completed  from the School for Ministry; graduation/ordination requirements to be met.    I came to see that these studies/experiences were much more than tasks to be completed they were formation and I will take that a step further and say for me, they were transformative. “God loves you just the way you are; but he doesn’t intend for you to stay that way”, indeed.

The title of the Presiding Bishop-elect’s sermon was “Go!”- the first word in the Great Commission…and I think back now on these studies(both Spring and Summer), and SFM was saying just that – “GO!” Go to the Showers of Blessings…go to St. Paul’s Senior Homes and learn how to tell the Good News”.   At the same time, I believe Jesus was saying, “Come.  Come here. Come here and see.”

Who knew by showing up early at the Manor to join the Tuesday night Bingo session (as requested) would bring Christ into the lobby , telling me to “Come in.  Sit down and wait.  I have something to show you”.  And that night, the forming of the Grief Group began.

Showing up a little early at the MHC to wait for the interfaith service to begin (as assigned),  walking into the dining room filled with people asleep in their wheel chairs, some with IV’s, positioned around tables, and clustered in front of a blaring TV that no one was watching. Thinking to myself, how much good could I do here with everyone asleep, or seemingly unaware of what was going on around them.  Sitting down next to a woman who seemed awake, at a table, with no one to talk to and not interested in TV, we managed a little conversation.  Then I noticed a bookshelf filled with books and children’s jig saw puzzles.  We spent the better part of an hour putting together a 24 pc. puzzle.  It was painstakingly slow, and I was reminded of helping my 3-year-old daughter with puzzles; I would hand her the piece, help guide her hand very close to the “fit” of the piece, and let her feel the triumph of completion as she locked it in. Looking back on that now, I think Jesus sat with us for that hour.

Being present at the Sunday morning service (non-denominational) at the Villa with assisted living and Memory Care residents…sitting next to MC resident in a wheel chair, holding her hand because she had a bad morning coming down in the elevator, and was shook up…as the service progressed, she held my hand so tightly that the circulation was cut off…she noticed it before I did…apologized and gently rubbed my hand as she continued to hold on. When the service was over and she was wheeled out of the chapel, she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, and said “I love you.”

One evening we wandered up to the dining room for Memory Care, and one of the residents, an energetic, direct woman was playing the piano- taking requests from a list of tunes someone had printed up that was at least 4 pages long.  She played by ear, and told me her story of how she played piano for a church starting when she was 9 years old. This story, I suspect is the one left she still remembers about her life, and the songs she will never forget.  The joy of telling that story and playing so beautifully for all to hear was so apparent in her eyes…Then Fred, another resident at Memory Care, stands up and asks Judy to dance.  They are both delighted with each other.  This is the same Fred who has difficulty playing Bingo and finding B-11 on his card… but now, Fred is transformed in his mind back to a time when he was on a dance floor in a night club, with a full orchestra playing his favorites, he straightens up a little, now he’s in his best suit, his feet glide around the dining room floor, he twirls Judy and brings her back to perfect dance position, his left hand-held high, his right hand at the top of Judy’s waist. Joy in both their eyes. Somehow I feel Jesus is smiling too.

Jesus was with us surely, the last time we entered the room of a 101 yr. old hospice patient; we’d visited her many times…today she looked very alert and interested in some pictures her daughter had left her with…we talked about them…discovered she was IN those pictures herself, something she didn’t realize until then…we held hands and prayed, told her we loved her…and she called to us on the way out, “Thank you.” …Richard and I looked at each other and we both knew she may not be with us the next time we stop by. But she knew she was loved … that seemed good enough for today.

Being present with those who mourn…having one of those mourners we are journeying with stand up at the last day  of the Grief Group- hug me and say, ” You are in a little piece of my heart.” Jesus was there.

There are so many more stories…but now it’s finished, this Summer Field Placement.  Now I see that it was much more than a requirement for ordination.  I realize regardless of requirements, I would have no business wearing a collar without these experiences; without learning to see with Christ’s eyes…without encountering and sharing Christ.

Even the blogging assignment: “10 blogs”- Something to be completed?  Yes. But more than that.  For me, the experiences and “blogging” about them are transformative …they are seeing with Christ’s eyes – encountering him in each phrase…each recalling of a moment when we both showed up to see what would happen.

So, thank you Jesus.  Thank you for tapping me on the shoulder and saying “Come and see.” I will continue to “GO!” to where you are telling me to “come and see”.

I plan on continuing this practice of offering my love of Christ up for transformation through a blog.  I’m changing the subtitle to ” Encountering and Sharing Christ”.

 

 

 

 

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“Lift us to where we are still and know that thou art God”

Fridays at 2:30 Richard and I meet with residents in the Manor Chapel at St. Paul’s Senior Homes for Grief Group. One Friday, we met and Richard was out of town, so I was the single facilitator.  As usual, I prepared the opening prayer and closing prayer,  and introduced check in of the folks who attended, and offered up a topic for discussion about where they find themselves this week in their journey of walking together through grief and mourning into the new reality of their lives.  We are chiefly relying on some wonderful books by Dr. Alan Wolfelt that I’ve mentioned before all about companioning (walking with) those whom we meet with in their journey towards their new normal; life without their loved one.

This week’s topic is about respecting disorder and confusion. “True companioning means: respecting disorder and confusion- staying present with each other in the disorientation that is a natural part of mourning, not trying to figure it out; not trying to understand, or trying to make it better.  Recognizing it is a natural unfolding process that will eventually result in re-orientation.” There are 4-5 “regulars” who attend…one man and 3-4 women.

We’ve been talking a lot over these last few weeks about how everyone in the group are in different places in dealing with and accepting their loss in life. Two of the women lost their loved one after they had entered the Memory Care unit at St. Paul’s and suffered an injury that eventually led to their death.  So they were dealing with the guilt they felt over not being able to take care of their loved ones at home AND the grief they had in losing them forever .

One woman, “Mrs. P”, was dealing with the tragic death of her 40 year old daughter; she most often sat in the group meetings and said very little..when asked if she’d care to share any thing with the group,she’d say, “I’m not ready yet”.  And Mr. D was dealing with the death of his younger brother who resided with him at the Manor for a number of years; they were inseparable. He rarely shared his feelings or memories about his brother, he mainly offered words of comfort and faith to the others, with very little concern for himself.

This particular Friday,   Mr. D joined in the discussion with, ” I don’t understand why God didn’t take me first instead of my younger brother.  I am the oldest in my family. Everyone else is gone.   I’ve had a good long life. It should’ve been me! What need does God have for me here? I should’ve died – not him!”

It wasn’t long until Mrs. P spoke up and said, ” My daughter had children and a husband and her whole life ahead of her.  It’s not natural for your children to die before you do! I am so numb, life holds no joy for me.”

Sitting in that circle, I was filled with compassion and love for these  people.  It hurt me to see them struggle with this pain.I knew it took a lot of courage to say how they were really feeling- in a culture that wants us to “get past this and move on”…

Then, I remembered why I was there, and how I am walking with them through this to the different reality that was waiting for them on the other side of this grief and sorrow they were suffering, that they can’t avoid, can’t get past … they must go through it in order to find peace and healing.  I remembered that Jesus sent us out “two by two” to be his voice and presence in the world.

And then, I realize that at this moment, at this meeting, I am witnessing and joining them in their walk through this ugly, painful sorrowful time- through this- to their own new reality, and I feel as pleased as a new mother would at seeing their children take their first step, then another, then another.  What courage for that little one- to attempt to do something they’d never done before.  What courage for those in the group- to attempt to walk through the very thing that frightens them the most.  And then I recall our opening prayer…

“O God of peace, You taught us that in returning to you and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: please be with us now as we journey together towards healing and grace.

By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to Your presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God;” . Amen. – adapted from BCP. (pg. 832)

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Fear VS Faith

This Sunday is the last Sunday for Richard and I to lead the music Worship service at the Manor.  It’s my turn to preach.  As I reflected on the readings this week, I realized that even in preaching at St. Paul’s we are “companioning” with the residents…A new word learned from books that Fr. Leigh gave us to read to prepare for the Grief Group that was formed while we were here (and that we “companion” with every Friday).  The books are Companioning the Bereaved, Companioning the Dying and Companioning You, all written by Alan D. Wolfelt. One of the first tenents Wolfelt teaches us is that WE are not the experts in anyone else’s grief, dying, etc.  WE are companions with them…sharing love, understanding… and common experiences to walk through these situations to a new reality; a new “normal” to peace and a new kind of joy.

I saw this unfold in the readings today.  Jesus walking with the woman and the synagogue leader.

Sermon Sunday 6/28/15 Faith vs. Fear

Of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, I’d always considered John my favorite writer – But, after two years in Seminary, I have to come admire and respect the Gospel of Mark (while still reserving John as my preferred ). This is largely to the credit of my New Testament professors.

Mark, as you may know, was actually the first Gospel written (not the second as the book is positioned in the NT).  And, Matthew and Luke relied on much of Mark’s writings for their own Gospels.  I’d always thought the structure of Mark was very simplistic, with most movement in the narrative containing the word, ” immediately”.  If you read the book in one sitting, you get the feeling that Jesus was constantly on the move- preaching, performing miracles, jumping into boats, sailing to one side of the sea to another, raising the dead, exorcising demons, healing sick, blind and unclean people.  Even if he found time alone to pray, his followers would find him and bring his attention to some person or community that needed Jesus.  Then, they would immediately bring Jesus to that community or person.

What I’ve learned about Mark is that he is in fact, one of the most brilliant Gospel writers of all.  “The Gospel of Mark presents Jesus’ preaching and manifestation of the kingdom of God as a decisive new development in the history of Israel, not as a beginning of a new religion…(presenting Jesus) as a specially designated son of God, or king…(who) turns out to b e a messiah(anointed one) who is a martyr, in contrast to the disciples’ expectations that Jesus would be invested with political power in Jerusalem.”[1]

Mark’s Gospel doesn’t contain Jesus’ Genealogy, the beloved story of the Nativity or of Jesus getting lost as a teenager at the Temple on family pilgrimage there.  Mark starts right out stating in the first sentence, that Jesus’ life and ministry, passion, death and resurrection is the gospel,” the good news”, and states without hesitation, with no build up, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God.

Mark 1:1:  “The beginning of the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.

Last week, we read in Mark about the storm that overcame the boat Jesus and his disciples were traveling in to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. You will remember that Jesus was asleep, and in sheer panic the disciples woke Jesus up and seemed to question his vigilance in sleeping while they were in danger of losing their lives in the horrible storm. He stands up in a composed manner, and calms the storm; then turns to them and says, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith??” 4:39-41.

As we study the passage in today’s gospel, it seems to me that being afraid is a common occurrence for people who encounter Jesus in the hopes of finding a miracle; a miracle from Jesus, their desperate last hope.  Can this Palestinian peasant from Nazareth (of all places!), who even his own family have called crazy, really help me?  When my community laughs at him? When even doctors have all failed?

I imagine Jairus, sitting at his daughter’s bedside, watching some unknown illness take over her young body, his feelings of helplessness, his feeling of fear as he probably brought doctors in to help her, and she didn’t recover.

Jairus, a ruler in the synagogue, a powerful and wealthy man, Jairus, supposedly  close to the ear of God Himself- and yet he is helpless to save her life. I am sure he has heard the rumblings of the other priests and rabbis over this Jesus, this rabble-rouser, this man who claims to be the son of God, from Nazareth.  From Nazareth of all places! What price did Jairus pay in leadership, power and prestige to find Jesus and publicly beg for his help?

Jairus hears Jesus is coming in by boat today.  Everyone in town is talking about it, many of them run down to the boat as it arrives.  The rabbis and priests are shaking their heads with disapproval as Jairus gently lays his daughter down in her bed and runs down to the boat- all he can think of is the little girl’s life ebbing out of her minute by minute.  He puts his fear aside and falls to his knees(!) among the “great crowd” and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24 So he went with him.”

Standing off to the side of the “great crowd” of people, watching this all unfold  might have been the woman in the next verse, the woman suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years…

I picture the woman (who throughout this story remains nameless), worn out, depressed, broke, hopeless; somehow hearing about this Jesus and the healing he has done throughout the area.  She’s an outcast- due to bleeding for 12 long years. Leviticus 15:25-30 makes it clear that as long as she is  bleeding, anything she touches or her clothes touch, are also unclean and had to go through a cleansing ritual, to become clean again.  She goes from doctor to doctor, desperate to find a cure and return to a normal life; yet doctor after doctor  cannot help her, they can only take her money.

She must think, “What if he can really help me? I’ve heard so many people say he is a great teacher, that he is driving out demons and healing people. Some people say he is a prophet, or the messiah!  I have no money left…But if he sees me, will he know I am unclean?  A rabbi or prophet isn’t allowed to even touch me! What if other people see me? They will chase me away. She continues to follow on the margin of the crowd, with, I’m sure, her thoughts in turmoil.

Then, she puts her fear aside, and presses in among the throng of people following Jesus to the house of Jairus…as they stride along, she reaches down and touches the hem of Jesus’ robe and “immediately” she felt the healing power of Jesus throughout her body and her hemorrhage stopped; and ” she was healed of her disease.” The joy and awe she must’ve felt.  I picture her standing still in the realization that she has been healed as the crowd goes around her as they continue to follow Jesus.

She sees Jesus stop. Question those around him.  Looking among the crowd. Fear rises up in her…knowing she must go to him and tell him that it was she who touched his robe.  She, who hasn’t been fit to touch anyone or anything for 12 years.  What will he do?  Will he be angry? Will he return my sickness?

She walks up to Jesus, (trembling and shaking before Jesus  with fear) and admits that she touched his robe. He says to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

Fear and Faith again. hmmm

Just at that moment, probably the most insensitive person the staff at Jairus’ house could’ve sent to tell Jairus the terrible news that his little girl had died comes on the scene to halt the collection of people walking with and around Jesus and Jairus to his daughter’s bedside.  This person seems more concerned with Jesus being inconvenienced than Jairus losing his daughter to an early death.

I wonder at this part of Mark’s Gospel.  Something tells me that the Synagogue didn’t want Jesus to be able to heal the little girl-that this would just increase his following. Besides, they may have thought, Jairus needs to stop this craziness, following this Jesus.  He’s embarrassing all of us. The girl died, just as we told him she would.  Surely, this Jesus is not going to enter the house of a corpse (clearly against the purity laws)?

Jairus turns to Jesus, devastated.  Jesus tells him, what?  “Do not fear, only believe.  He leaves the murmuring crowd behind and takes only Jairus, Peter, James and John on to the little girl.  He arrives at the house, where everything is in chaos.  Wailing, crying, commotion…he again, calm and pastoral, says the child is not dead, just asleep.  This brings down the house.  They all begin to laugh.  They saw her die, they know she is dead.  Who is this???

He proceeds to where the girl is, and tells her to get up. She does.  Then he goes back to the room full of naysayers and tells them to get something to eat for the poor girl.  I would’ve loved to see their faces at this news.

Clearly, Mark brings this story to us to show us again, how “the death of a loved one brings a petitioner to Jesus and becomes the occasion for presentation of Jesus’ power over death.  The story contrasts the turmoil of the mourners with the calm assurance of Jesus”[2].

When mulling this over, I am struck by the courage of the woman and the leader of the synagogue.  They went against all their own community’s laws, norms and probably faced a lot of criticism (or worse) for their actions against the cultural norms.

I wonder, would I be willing to pay any price-risk arrest, risk losing my job, risk causing me to be further ostracized from society, risk losing what little I had left to follow Jesus?

All of us in this room don’t arrive at this stage in our life without having times, moments in our lives where we are without hope.  With that hopelessness comes fear.  Fear of loss. Fear of pain. Fear of death. For me, it happens when I turn to myself or doctors, or “experts” for help out of that hopelessness.

Maybe that is the message Mark is giving us today.  The unfailing love and grace of Jesus takes the risk and the fear and replaces it with faith, strength and courage. Jesus did exactly that for the unnamed woman and Jairus.

We never hear what happened to either the Synagogue leader or the nameless lady with the hemorrhage.  But we do  know what their stories have done for others for over the last  2,000 years.

For those afraid to approach Jesus and ask for healing, thinking they are not “good enough” or doing something so outside what they and their family or the world would expect them to do…face to face, heart to heart;  to go against what the “world” outside believes is true and scoffs and derides anything else.  To no longer fear but to trust in the power of the love and grace of Jesus to heal us, to make us whole, to give us courage, strength and joy.

For me, that is what this Gospel writer is telling us today. After all, his first verse in the book reads,  “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.

AMEN

[1] The New Oxford Annotated Bible. NRSV with The Apocrypha.  Horsly, Richard A. Introduction to The Gospel of Mark1791-1792

[2] Harper’s Biblical Commentary. Mark 4:35-5:43.  ppg. 990-991

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“You can’t take that away from me”…

It’s Wednesday night at St. Paul’s Senior Homes and I am late getting off the elevator at the 11th floor of the Manor to make my way down the hall to join in on the residents’ sing-along. As I rush down the hall, I hear many voices singing to Gershwin songs…I’ve just spent over an hour with a resident in St. Paul’s Villa (assisted living) who is in such terrible grief over her husband of 64 years who is in the Memory Care unit suffering from Alzheimer’s. She lives just a floor up from him in assisted living.  She is in a wheel chair and tries to go to his room to visit…but she just can’t bring herself to do it anymore. He doesn’t know her and is becoming difficult for even the staff to deal with him sometimes.  She wants to take him home and take care of him; “Maybe then he will return to his old self, and know who I am”.  She’s grieving the loss of him; and feels guilty because she just can’t bear to see him in the state he is in.  They call this “The Long Goodbye”.

As I am talking with her, I recall in the Grief Group that three of the 4 women in the group all had their spouses move to the Memory Care, with the on-set of Alzheimer’s; they subsequently got worse, and eventually , through accident, injured themselves and that led to their death.  They are all trying to find their “new reality”.

As I sit down, and I am given the song selections to sing along…I look and see about 10 minutes before we are done for the evening, the song selection coming up is “You Can’t Take That Away From Me”

The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No they can’t take that away from me
The way your smile just beams
The way you sing off key
The way you haunt my dreams
No they can’t take that away from me
We may never ever meet again, on that bumpy road to love
Still I’ll always, always keep the memory of
The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you changed my life
No they can’t take that away from me
No they can’t take that away from me
The way your smile just beams
The way you sing off key
The way you haunt my dreams
No they can’t take that away from me
We may never ever meet again, on that bumpy road to love
Still I’ll always, always keep the memory of
The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you changed my life
No you can’t take that away
You can’t take that away from me
No you can’t take that away from me  Songwriters: GERSHWIN, IRA / GERSHWIN, GEORGE

The wives can hold onto the memories of their husbands…but their husbands had their memories erased- the memories of 64 years together, the struggles, the joys, the love, the special moments…all gone …the cruelest, saddest disease of all…the LONG GOODBYE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Forgetting who we are-and the promises we’ve made

The joke goes, “Trinity Sunday”… Must be the Deacon’s turn to preach”.

My first sermon at St. Paul’s Senior Home was set for Trinity Sunday.
So, after reviewing the Lectionary sources for that day, I began to prepare for the homily. I don’t know if it was because Richard and I are so immersed in working in the Memory Care unit, or at the Villa where there are definitely memory problems…but as I looked over the Gospel (John), the Psalm, Epistle (Romans) and Isaiah…I was struck by Isaiah’s reaction to being brought into the presence of God the Almighty in his vision; and his utter remorse for his people and himself because of how they had forgotten how much God loved them, how much God instructed them to remember who they were: God’s chosen people…the light of the world…they have forgotten the promise (Covenant) they made with God…how they had simply turned their backs on God and his all-forgiving love. We (as they did ) begin to believe we are in charge. We are calling the shots. It’s through our own hands that we are who and what we are and what we acquire is only through our own efforts … I am so glad that God is God …and we are not!

In today’s readings,( Isaiah, Psalm 29, Romans and John) we are treated to the distillation of the Christian story to the “irreducible minimum”. In other words, God’s Mission for the world, told through the eyes and pen of Isaiah, David, the Psalmist, the Apostle Paul, and the Apostle John.

We couldn’t ask for a more illustrious group to send their stories down to us through the ages …for us to take to heart, be inspired, and feel the gracious love and mercy of God in our lives, today, right now, in our hearts.

In these brief passages, we see through their eyes, God’s immeasurable love, Jesus’ death, and new life (re-birth) through the Spirit: in other words, The Trinity.
The Prophet Isaiah sets the” ancient tone” for us in the first reading.
In no uncertain terms, Isaiah tries to describe how the Holy One of Israel, in all his power and glory, loves his people- and wants their hearts to return to God- for they have turned their backs on God ; they’ve forgotten who they are – and worst of all, forgotten about the covenant they made with God.
In this passage, God is “calling for someone to send” to tell his people to return to Him.
I’ve always wondered why God gave Isaiah this vision, inviting him into God’s presence, to look into the very face of God…
It is thought that Isaiah was of royal blood, because of his continued access to courts and kings throughout his prophetic career. In his vision, Isaiah is positioned as a royal adviser, standing next to the King of Kings by the column at the entrance of the Temple, where he could see the interior of the Temple. . .
Isaiah’s vision begins with the description of the incredible magnificent splendor of God: “…sitting on a throne , high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple”. ..and what grandeur he envisions!…think of it, just the hem of God’s robe FILLS the Temple! How small, insignificant and unimportant this former royal adviser must’ve felt when he saw this!

…Seraphs attended God. Surely, Isaiah had seen king’s royal attendants, servants, in his days as an adviser before…
But, these aren’t just servants. They aren’t sweet little chubby angels smiling benevolently and whirling around the throne of God.
These are celestial beings at the top of the angelic hierarchy, these are beings of fire and power, according to Christian/Judean tradition.
In the reading today, they call to one another and say, “Holy, Holy, holy is the LORD of hosts”.
Most of us here have heard this prayer many times throughout our church life. But I didn’t realize what the Seraphs were really saying until I read the verse in “The Message” Translation of the Bible, in this translation, it says,
“Holy, holy, Holy is God-of-the-Angel-Armies”!
God of the ANGEL-ARMIES!
Just the sound of their voices shook the foundation of the temple and the temple filled with smoke! Wow.
I imagine Isaiah, going over in his stunned mind how the people of Israel had reduced God to something MUCH, MUCH smaller (into their own terms, to the pagan idols surrounding them)- to be ignored and set aside. And to think this most Almighty, glorious God had loved his people so much as to make a promise to them that he was keeping, but they were not. He must’ve been devastated when he realized this…
Indeed we see that he responds, in utter guilt and remorse both for himself and for his people before God,
“Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
He has seen the splendor and power of God, and he feels he and his people are unforgivable, not worthy of God’s love.
How could he ever hope to be welcome in God’s presence, being so sinful?

I don’t know about you, but I know there are times when I feel so far away from God, how could I ever measure up or be “good enough” to have God love me, just as I am. And yet, throughout the Scriptures, and lessons in the Bible, we learn that is exactly where God meets us- right where we are, when we realize how far away we’ve wandered…
when, just like Isaiah, we give up hope of getting things right and full of “woe”, believing we are unforgivable, unlovable.
We feel God is far from us…on his “throne” in heaven, looking down at all the evil, sin and corruption… disgusted, ready to give up on us.
We, like the ancient people of Israel, make the mistake of thinking God is like a human king, powerful, strong, but human, with human ideas of right or wrong, sin and mercy;
full of laws, rules and punishment.
We project our human flaws of resentment and revenge over wrong-doings
onto God;
because that is how we humans think.
This is a barrier between us and the presence of God in our lives.

But, I THANK GOD, that God is God and we are not. 🙂
Because, what happens to Isaiah just after he laments for himself and for his people over their sinfulness against God?
God chooses Isaiah to show him God’s unfathomable love by a sign to wipe out his sins- and return to the presence of God in his life.
He sends those fiery, powerful, celestial beings with 6 wings, to find a way to show Isaiah he is forgiven- and they touch a burning coal to his lips, and say,
“Look, Isaiah. This coal has touched your lips. Gone is your guilt, and your sins wiped out.”
It’s like God says to Isaiah,” My touch on your lips, has removed all your tainted and blasphemous words from your mouth. All is forgiven. It’s time to begin anew”.
“Now, I am looking for someone to send – to speak my words, to tell all my people to return to Me, to turn from their evil ways, to mend the broken promise that they made to me.
Love and mercy can be theirs also, Isaiah.
Who shall I send? ”
Isaiah, moments before this happened, probably didn’t believe that he was worthy to be in the presence of God, much less be the VOICE for God.
But now, still filled with joy , he stands strong and shouts with conviction, ” Here am I, send Me!”

God sent the Prophets to tell his people to return to their promise, their inheritance, to God’s heart. He sent his only Son (John 3:16), as the revelation of God’s love to the world, he sent the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts and minds of Jesus’ disciples so they would tell the whole world how much God loves them, throughout generations and millenniums, he is sending his voice to the world.

I don’t think God is done yet. Who will he send today? AMEN

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Falling in love

I’ve found that over the last two years of writing papers in seminary and now in the placement ministry I’m in, the huge theme of love continues to rise to the surface and demand attention in whatever I am composing or doing.

I was at the Manor a few evenings ago, visiting some residents there, and the receptionist in the lobby and I got to chatting; she asked what Richard and I did each day that we were there, and I shared with her that we both also worked full time and did this ministry as well.  She said, ” How do you manage to do this?” I thought for a moment, and said, “Love gives me strength to do this.”

Just this morning, I turned to my well-worn devotional by Sarah Young entitled “Jesus Calling” for my morning jolt of Jesus before flying out the door for work.

“I am creating something new in you: a bubbling spring of Joy that spills over into others’ lives.  Do not mistake this Joy for your own or try to take credit for it in any way.  Instead, watch in delight as My Spirit flows through you to bless others.  Let yourself become a reservoir of the Spirit’s fruit.

Your part is to live close to Me, open to all that I am doing in you.  Don’t try to control the streaming of My spirit through you.  Just keep focusing on Me as we walk through this day together.  Enjoy My Presence, which permeates you with Love, Joy, and Peace.”

I thought about that on my drive in to the shop.  Knowing that when I finished my morning there, I would be going home, changing clothes, eating some lunch, then driving to the Villa for a time with the seniors there and with the thought on my mind that I still needed to finish my sermon before tomorrow morning….My turn has come up to do the homily at the music service at St. Paul’s Manor on Sunday afternoon, I’ve started it in spurts over the last week, but that pesky theme is breaking into the nice neat idea I have  for the sermon that would be a lot easier to preach (and write about) and I haven’t progressed as far as I’d like to be the day before the service.

I arrive home. I look at the Mark Chapter 4, the parables again.  I’m preaching on the parable of the mustard seed and the Kingdom of God.

LOVE.  it bubbles up again.  I read from my textbook from my NT class, Luke Thompson’s, “The Writings of the New Testament”.  “Mark goes on to show his readers what kind of understanding Jesus demanded from his followers.  It was the sort that came from the commitment of the heart, from being with Jesus in loyalty and fidelity.”(pg. 156)

In the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, I look up parables. Under the parable of the mustard seed, I see: “…Mark includes the Parable of the Growing Seed…which stresses that the kingdom is God’s work and not the result of human action…The kingdom is revealed as an amazing expression of God’s grace…all point to God’s eagerness to benefit people by seeking them, forgiving them and accepting them…” (599). Hmmm. Sounds like LOVE to me.

The final nudge on the back of my head comes in looking at a “preaching blog” by David Lose.  He writes, “…in this sense, faith is apparently a lot more like falling in love than making a decision…”

My eyes are drawn to the bulletin board next to my computer, where I’ve had a copy of Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s poem, “Fall in Love” tacked to the board for about 3 year now.  (One of my favorites).

OK. LOVE it is.  I finish the sermon.  The bubbling is satisfied. Below is part of the sermon I will share tomorrow- and joy bubbles up too. Isn’t God good!

…What he demanded was more than just knowing and perceiving in their heads what Jesus was saying or what it meant; it is the commitment of their (and our) hearts. It is the grace of faith that love that gives us the strength to  be loyal and true in following and being with him in all things.

Jesus spoke in parables about the Kingdom of God/Heaven because he knew that it would be difficult to accept, understand or believe the truths he was revealing , so he did it in a hidden way (through parables).

The truth about the kingdom is it cannot be contained, controlled or stopped; and the most difficult truth is we have nothing to do with it coming,.

In the words of David Lose, “So also with God’s kingdom…It’s a new reality that invades, overturns, and eventually overcomes the old one.  It’s a word of promise that creates hope and expectation, leads people to change their jobs to share it, and to leave behind their old ways to live into it.  The kingdom is dangerous because you don’t know where it will take you or what you will do when it seizes hold of you.”

This truth, told straight out is hard for anyone to take; it makes us vulnerable, puts us in the position of total dependence on God. It can only come to us as a gift.  It comes to us as a gift of God’s grace, and only when we give our hearts in return.

It is a lot like falling in love; it comes from outside of ourselves, we don’t will it or decide to do it, it just arrives one day and breaks our hearts open to receive it. Then the whole world and our reason for being in it changes.  This Kingdom-faith inspires us to offer bits and pieces of that love we’ve perceived to others, with delight, with no strings attached.

Perhaps this is the rapid growth of the mustard seed in us?  This ever expanding, unfathomable love and grace of God- that spreads its branches wide over all the world welcoming anyone in who have hearts that are open and ears to hear .

I’d like to end with a favorite writing of mine by Rev. Pedro Arrupe, SJ – A Jesuit priest and missionary with an amazing life of love and sacrifice.

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

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Love’s Old Sweet Song…

Wednesday night…and time for Sing-a-long at the Manor.  This is a group that was formed independently by the residents with a love for gathering and singing favorite songs together…independent, in that the staff at St. Paul’s had nothing to do with setting it up or devising an agenda for it.

Tonight there were at least 20 people there.  Tonight, my smiling friend from Bingo and Bereavement is in charge of picking out the music, printing the sheets up with the words, and sort of having a theme to the choices.  As near as I can tell, (and I’m no spring chicken), but the songs seem to mainly be from the early 40’s..(last time I was here, the songs were probably from 20’s and 30’s-“ Good tap dancin’ music”,  the lovely lady sitting next to me had said as she tapped out perfect steps to the beat  from her chair.)

“Redwing’s weeping her heart away”…”Your goodbye left me with eyes that cry, how can I get along without you”…”Ramona, I dread the dawn, when I awake to find you gone”…”Your kiss was such a sacred thing to me, I can’t believe it’s just a burning memory…”In the still of the night, again I hold you tight, though you’re gone, your love lives on when moonlight beams, And as long as my heart will beat, lover, we’ll always meet , Here in my deep purple dreams”.

I thought, “Love songs, from an era gone by”…but as the night went on, and I sang along with everyone, I realized, yes, they were love songs, but most seemed sad, about love once had, but now was gone.  As I looked around the room at each person’s face as they sang, I realized they were remembering memories around each tune … and most had probably lost their loved one- now they were alone, keeping their memories in their hearts, bringing them to life into their dreams and songs.

The night came to a close, and Richard and I were saying our goodbyes, when my smiling friend walked over to us and said, “Remember you said that if I ever wanted to talk about things (meaning her grieving for her friend that died in January) to let you know?”

I said, “Yes, of course!” She smiled and said, “Well, I was wondering if you and Richard would help us form a Grief Group?  I know of at least 3 of us who would be interested, and maybe a few more”…

After getting some particulars, and explaining we’d have to check with Fr. Leigh, etc.  Richard and I walked out to our cars to go home for the evening.  (I admit, I for one was stunned that these sweet people would trust us to care for their hurting hearts- being new interns and all). Richard and I looked at each other, speechless.  “What have we gotten ourselves into?” said Richard.

I couldn’t help but go over the times I’d come into contact with my smiling friend; in the lobby trying to make small talk the first Tuesday evening, and subsequent times after.  I thought to myself, ” I don’t think it was OURSELVES who got us into this, Richard. This has God’s fingerprints all over it.”

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