Thursday, December 22, 2011

late night thoughts

Right now, it's the middle of the night & I am on the last night of my overnight shifts for the week. You never know what will happen overnight at a hospital - some nights are crazy busy with multiple traumas & code blues, while other nights are quiet. It has certainly given me a lot of time to think, to reflect on my life, my work, & the amazing, yet sad places I find myself in these days.

I've been a chaplain resident for three & a half months. While I consider it to be such a privilage & an honor to walk with people along their journey in the hospital, I am personally experiencing a spiritual famine. It's hard to admit that out loud. I'm an ordained minister. How can I feel like this? It feels like I'm putting on a show, all the while wondering what it all means. My relationship with God was pushed to the limits when I was leaving the church. That time was incredibly painful & I often questioned why God would do this to me. It was such a mess. And, I walked away from that mess into the world of hospital chaplaincy. I think I just shoved all that mess, pain, fear - into a corner & wanted to forget about it. But, it still haunts me. And, it hurts. I put up a wall to protect me from it all & that was pretty evident in my fall unit of this residency. I tried to engage in the process, desperately wanting to let go, but something was holding me back. It was the mess again. And, I am left with searching for God in it all.

And, there are questions that plague my head & my heart. Why am I resistant to praying with patients? I'll do it if they request it, but I don't offer it myself. Why can't I delve into spiritual matters in my visits? And, why am I so resistant to opening up completely to my colleagues?

I feel like I've lost myself along the way - through the mess that was my first call, the transition into a new situation with work, moving. I want to find myself again. I want to find the things that make me happy. I just want to be happy again. And, I desperately want to have a deeper connection with God, not just going through the motions & what is expected of me as a minister, as a chaplain. I desire deep peace.

Something that is plaguing me is the unresolved issues with my relationship with a guy I've known for over 11 years. We have this insane connection & felt it from the beginning. But, something happened back in late October - he began distancing himself from me. He changed. I felt like I've been robbed of the relationship - he wasn't there for me during the period of pain, the surgery, or the recovery. It had all changed in a moment. Over the last few days, I've toyed with the idea of sending a letter explaining all of my feelings. But, is it worth it? Or should I just walk away? What I know is that I have a broken heart. And it hurts.

My goal is to be more open about the thoughts in my head & the feelings in my heart with those around me. I can't simply exist behind the walls of protection anymore. The walls aren't serving me well. It's not going to be easy - that's for sure. But, I know I need space for healing & it can be done in community. Healing takes time - one step at a time.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

giving thanks

I'll be two weeks post-op on Tuesday. Thank goodness they did the surgery on this crazy hip of mine - there was indeed a tear in my hip joint. No wonder I was in so much pain for the last month! I'm doing much better now - figuring out how to negotiate the world on a pair of crutches, which will be my best friend for another 4 weeks; driving is easy; got a stool so I can sit in the kitchen while cooking; & I'm a pretty good driver of those electronic scooter carts at the store (watch out!). My mom's been here with me since the surgery, which is a tremendous blessing. She's been cooking, cleaning, & making sure I am not doing anything I shouldn't be doing...
I was pretty worried that this surgery would not allow me to travel to Ohio this week to be with my family for Thanksgiving. But, I am! Figured out how to pack in a backpack so I don't have to negotiate a rolling suitcase with crutches. And, my mom is on the same flight there with me. I am so thankful to be headed there to celebrate Thanksgiving with my extended family, which we've been doing for the last 30 years.
And, I am very thankful to be going back to work full time on November 28th. It's a great birthday present to be able to go back to a job that I absolutely love & to see my lovely colleagues who I miss so much. I know that I will not be at full speed, but I can do it. I am confident of that:)
Here's to giving thanks. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with those you love & adore.

Saturday, November 05, 2011


To say that life has changed in the past few months would be an understatement. After months of agonizing over a situation that was never going to change no matter how hard I tried, I made the decision to leave the church. I realized I was just making myself sick & not serving myself well. I knew I was well on my way to burnout & I didn't want that for myself, so leaving there was the best option for my own sanity. The blessing was being able to move on to something I that I knew would be healing, challenging & life-giving - I am now serving as a chaplain resident at a great hospital. I'm walking this journey with four amazing colleagues, two fantastic supervisors & a score of other chaplains. So far, it has been a wonderful, challenging, gut-wrenching, and beautiful experience. I am tasked with the clinical assignments of oncology & mental health, which are both hard. Also, I've done one of my three week rotations on our palliative care service, which works with patients & families who are facing end of life decisions. I loved it more than anything, even though it's broken my heart more than a few times. The passion of the team of doctors, chaplains, nurse & social worker makes me thankful & grateful for their presence during the hardest times of life. I look forward to my next rotation with them in December/January.

Other changes include moving from a four bedroom home into a 627 square foot downtown apartment. It's enough space for me. I always felt the house was way more than this gal needed & I love that it doesn't take a whole day to get it clean! I now live within walking distance of the central market, a great coffee shop, yummy restaurants, & a great church where I love simply being a part of the community. It's a good place to be. A healing place.

The next change will come on Tuesday. About a month ago, I suffered a hip injury that has plagued me. After many days on crutches, lots of medications, and a failed cortozone shot, I am having surgery. The hard part is not being able to work for awhile, but I need to get this fixed. I've been in a lot of pain. But, there is no guarantee that this will work, but I am willing to take the chance. The recovery process will be difficult, but my parents are coming to help. Of course, I'm scared of the surgery & the pain afterwards, but I am trying to stay positive. Prayers are certainly welcome.

Hopefully, these changes of life will bring me to a better place - a place of healing, a place of happiness, a place where I will regain my courage & confidence in myself.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Heading to #Unco11

As I write this, I am listening to this amazing song..."pink, fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows". This might be the most fantastic conference I will ever attend! For those not familar with the Unconference 2011, it is this gathering of people from all over, coming together to share ideas & learn together. It is pretty loosely structured & I must say, there is some quite appealing to that right now. I need some time away & meet up with other emergent/liberal/progressive minded-church folk. So, on Monday morning, I will board the Amtrak train in my backyard (literally, my house sits along the tracks) & head up to Stony Point, NY. I will track my progress on the way.

For now, I must begin the packing process... got my bottle of wine & candy to share, a great geekicorn t-shirt to wear, & a great book to read on the train. So, #Unco11, here I come!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter Sunday: I Have Seen the Lord!

My Easter sermon for this year. Love this story!

I Have Seen the Lord!
John 20.1-18

Easter is here! I love this day. I love the beauty of colorful flowers, the crisp white fabric adorning the Table & the cross. I fondly remember the Easters of my childhood –the sanctuary of my childhood church adorned with banners hanging high & filled with paper butterflies. There was such a sense of joy in the air. The waiting of Lent was over. It was time for a celebration. And, so we celebrate today & here once again the story of Christ’s resurrection. It is told through the eyes of a woman, who saw the Lord.

We have been living the story throughout this Lenten season has we have made the journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. We walked with Christ through these past forty days, encountering Jesus along the way – from the temptations in the desert to meeting Nicodemus in the night to the healing of the blind man to the woman at the well. And, we reflected on where we are & where we are heading. Last Sunday, we waved our palms high & shouted “Hosanna!” just as the crowds of people did so long ago upon Christ’s triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. But, then the crowds’ shouts of joy quickly turned into something else. On Thursday, we gathered here, around the Table, to mark his last meal with the disciples & to hear the story of his final days on the earth. Good Friday came, with some of us gathered with others in the community, to reflect on the scene at the cross & Jesus’ burial. Then, we waited, in the silence & the grief. And, our journeying & our waiting have brought us to this day, where we are truly able to exclaim – “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Today’s part of the story begins right where we left off – at the tomb. Mary Magdalene was the first one to arrive there, even before the sun rose. She was searching for Jesus. She had come to finish the preparations of his body for burial. But, she also came to grieve the loss of her friend, her teacher, who had been killed. However, upon her arrival, she was startled to discover the stone was rolled away & his body was nowhere in sight.

Her first instinct is to run from the empty tomb to find the disciples. When she found Simon Peter & another disciple, she proclaimed “he is gone…they have taken him out of the tomb & we don’t know where they have laid him.” And so, the two disciples ran towards the tomb to see it for themselves. They looked all around the empty tomb, saw the linen burial cloths lying around on the ground, & they returned to their homes, in a state of mourning over the loss of their beloved teacher, who truly was indeed gone.

Then, Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb, filled with deep sadness for she believes Jesus is gone. She is weeping outside of the tomb & when she is finally able to look inside, she discovered that she was not alone. There were two angels who ask her – why are you weeping? Mary still does not believe Jesus was raised from the dead, so she tells them they have taken away the body of the Lord. And in her deep grief & unbelief, she turns around, only to encounter the risen Christ right in front of her eyes, but she does not recognize him at first. Jesus asks her the same question as the angels – why are you weeping? And, then she asks him where he took the body, assuming that this stranger is the gardener. He said her name, Mary, & it was then that she recognized him as Jesus. What a sight it must have been for her – to encounter the risen Christ! And, her initial reaction is to cling to her beloved teacher, but he instructs her to go forth & tell others he has gone to be with God.
And, so she goes out & shares the good news of his resurrection with all those who would listen. Her proclamation of “I have seen the Lord” is such a powerful witness. She says what she knows to be true, & even though she desperately wanted to cling to him, she was able to go forth to share the good news. Mary, on that day so long ago, spoke the eternal truth we praise to this day – life does indeed conquer death.

Although our reading ends here today, the story is far from over. We live as an Easter people, as people of the resurrection. And, as resurrection people, we are called to live as witnesses to this miracle story. We are called to share the good news that we have seen the Lord! We are to proclaim our faith to whoever will listen to us. For, we are indeed the body of Christ & the story continues on with each one of us.

Our faith is one of action – of serving the needs we see in our community & in our world. We do so through our efforts of feeding the hungry through the Parkesburg Food Cupboard & Mobile Food Pantry. We do so through growing nourishing veggies in our garden & giving them away to others. We do so through teaching our children, our youth, & each other in our Sunday School classes each week. We do so through visiting each other in our homes, sending notes of care to those in hospital or who are homebound. We do so through caring about each other, in more ways than one. And, we do so by seeing the face of Christ in every single person we encounter in our daily lives. In doing so, we will indeed see the Lord.

So, while we celebrate the glorious day of Christ’s resurrection today, it does not end here. The story continues on with us. Mary Magdalene was able to share the new with all whom she saw that day, boldly proclaiming that Christ had indeed risen from the dead. What a powerful message for the world. May we be so bold as to share it too. For indeed, Christ has risen! He has risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

JwJ: Ecumenical Good Friday

This is the sermon I preached at our Community Good Friday service. It was an ecumenical service with PC(USA), United Methodist, Mennonite, American Baptist, & AME clergy participating. I always enjoy being with my colleagues & worshipping together as the one Body of Christ.

Were You There?
John 19.1-42

The hymn “Were You There”, when sung on this night, reminds me of the power of Good Friday. The verses are full of haunting images of Christ’s final moments here on earth – from those souls gathered around the cross, to the nails being pierced through his hands, to when he is carried away to his tomb. Whenever I close my eyes, surrounded by these images, I can place myself there in the scene on the top of the hill as one who was present at Christ’s crucifixion. And, this is what the hymn is meant to do – to transport us into a space where we can be present & very much involved in the event itself. And, so I invite you this night, to be transported into this space – into the scene of Christ’s final hours on that fateful night so long ago.

Sung: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

The words “Crucify him! Crucify him!” echo out into Jerusalem. The people, the soldiers, the chief priests yell these harsh words as Jesus is paraded right in front of them. They want absolutely nothing to do with this man, who just days earlier entered into the city to shouts of “Hosanna!” & to claims of being the Messiah, the king they were waiting for. But, now the tables have been turned completely, & the people are revolting against him. It did not matter what Pilate said or what he found out from Jesus. It did not matter that Pilate presented their King to the people – they already made their minds up. They shouted at the top of their lungs once again – “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” The chief priests denied his role as their king, instead pledging their loyalty to the emperor. Pilate had no choice at this point, but to hand Jesus over for his crucifixion.

Where are you in this story? Are you there, amidst the angry crowd of voices? Are you there, voicing your denial of Jesus as King? Where are you? Where is your voice?

Sung: Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Now, after Jesus carried his heavy cross up to Golgotha, he was nailed up upon the cross by the soldiers. There was a crowd gathered around & the soldiers decide to cast lots for his clothes. They went after his possessions like a greedy child grabbing for more candy. All dignity was gone. All decency was gone. It was a brutal, savage scene. But, in the middle of it all, there stood the most important women in Jesus’ life – his mother Mary, her sister, & Mary Magdalene. The pain in their eyes & their hearts was intense. The sadness overwhelmed them to see the man they loved deeply, hanging there in front of them, in pain & in agony. And, in the midst of this horrible time, Jesus manages to mutter the words – “here is your mother” to his most beloved disciple. He wanted his mother to be cared for after his death. And, then Jesus knew it was over. He was done. So, the words “I am finished” escaped his mouth as he left the world & gave his spirit to God.

Where are you? Are you there, casting lots for meager possessions? Are you there, in the pain of a mother watching her beloved son die on a cross? Where are you? Where is your voice?

Sung: Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

When it was over, it was time to move the body. The soldiers decided to pierce his side to make sure that he was indeed gone. Blood & water poured out from his side, so they knew he was dead. A man, Joseph of Arimathea, along with Nicodemus, took Jesus’ body from the crucifixion scene. They carefully anointed him with spices, wrapped his body in the burial cloths, & solemnly carried him to the tomb. What a strong juxtaposition of the brutal crucifixion & the love & care showed to Christ by these men. They obviously loved him & wanted him to be laid in peace.

Where are you? Are you there, with soldiers piercing his side? Are you there, with the men, lovingly preparing Christ for his burial? Where are you? Where is your voice?

And, with the tomb closed, it was over. There were no more words spoken. Silence took over & the grief began.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Journey with Jesus: A Triumphant Entry

A sermon for Palm Sunday
Matthew 21.1-11

I don’t know about you, but I do love a good parade. There is something interesting about people from all walks of life, strangers to one another, gathering along the sides of streets – all waiting for the parade. I love watching the faces of children, waiting with growing excitement for what is to come. Parades are filled with wonder, excitement, happiness – it is almost like a time set apart from the harshness & hardness of the rest of the world. It is a space where cares seem to dissipate, worries evaporate, & the power of wonder overcomes us. I’ve not seen too many upset people at a parade, outside of the occasional over-tired child.

In our continued journey with Jesus, we come to the point in the narrative where Jesus comes into Jerusalem, atop a donkey, riding in a different sort of parade. There are people who have traveled from throughout the countryside, lined the streets with great anticipation, & when he arrives, throw cloths & palm branches onto the ground before him, all the while shouting, “Hosanna!”. What a scene it must have been! Scores of people, from all walks of life & all ages, children smiling up in wonder, adults filled with excitement for the coming of the King, the Messiah they’ve come to know through healings & teachings, the elderly – coming out to see this man who has healed many, wondering if they too could be healed. It was a triumphant entry of a King for sure – filled with power, excitement, hope & wonder for the people. However, for Jesus, this was a different kind of parade.

He already knew what was ahead of him on the journey - he was indeed heading towards the end of his life on earth. He knew these people wouldn’t be shouting “Hosanna!” very much longer. He knew it would become painful in the coming days & there was much to still share with his disciples. And, he needed to share the message that he was indeed the Messiah, the king – the one whom God sent to save the world from the mess they were in. He rode into town that fateful day upon a donkey-colt, which was to fulfill what the prophet Zechariah said, “Tell the daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming to you, humble, & mounted on a donkey & on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem marks the beginning of Holy Week & the beginning of his last days here on earth. Within a few short days, the cries of hosanna will fade into cries of “crucify him!” Oh, how quickly things change! How quickly we can lose sight of it all! And, it begs the question of what were the crowds seeking that day in Jerusalem. Why did they herald his entrance then turn & participate in his violent departure? Maybe it was the allure of this “celebrity” figure coming into town that drew them to the streets that day. Maybe they wanted something to happen right then & there – that they would be saved from the rule of the Empire. Or maybe, they never really understood Jesus’ message in the first place. My guess – a little of all the above.

We can be like the people, the crowd who lined the streets of Jerusalem. We love the idea of worshipping the One who came to save us with our palms waving & shouts of hosanna. We love being in the presence of someone great & powerful. But, at the end of the parade, we simply go back to normal life. The pomp & circumstance is over. The allure is gone. Normal sets in. We go back to work, back to school, back to the stresses of everyday life. And, even though it is Holy Week, we don’t continue to walk with Jesus. We walk our own paths instead. And, then suddenly, we find the crowds again – this time at scene of Pilate interrogating Christ Jesus & when asked what he should do with this man – we shout “crucify him!” Wow, how quickly things can change. It is like we have forgotten the celebration of Jesus’ riding into town, surrounded by palm waving & shouts of hosanna. We simply go along with the crowd.

This happens to us all the time. And, often it is easier to go along with the crowd then to stand out. But, that is what we are called to do. We are called to worship Jesus Christ as our Lord, the Messiah who came to live among us, who taught us how we should live our lives. We are called to wave our palms high & shout hosanna, not just for a moment on Palm Sunday, but every moment of every day! We are called to resist the temptation of simply going back to normal life after we worship on Sunday mornings in this place. And, we are called to continue to walk this journey with Jesus during this Holy Week. The story is not over yet.

This is the great gift of Holy Week – a time set apart to walk with Christ. We are to walk these final steps with him. I urge you strongly not to miss out on this week. Don’t miss out on this walk with Christ. Come Thursday night, where we will sit at table, just as his disciples did for the final time. We will hear the accounts of his final days, through word & song. Come Friday night, to touch the cross & feel the pain of Christ’s crucifixion. Spend time on Saturday reflecting on the events of the week, but also praying for what will come next. For, on Sunday, we will celebrate the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, with our bright colored flowers & loud shouts of “Alleluia! He is risen!” But, we are not there yet. The procession continues. Be here on Thursday. Be with the community on Friday. Be a part of the abundance of the community gathered. Come to meet Jesus. Stay with this procession as it heads towards the cross.

The triumphant entry of Jesus is a powerful time in this journey. But, the journey continues this week. May you resist the temptation to simply go about this week as normal. May you feel the power of this Holy Week, as each of these days are indeed holy time to be with Christ. May you meet Jesus along the way. May you stay with the procession, stay with the community - touch the cross, & let it carry you into the promise of new life. Let us walk together this week, as a community who follows Christ & proclaims him as our Lord & Savior. Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Journey with Jesus: Days 7 & 8

Since late last week, I've been thinking about the people in Japan. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to have your whole lives destroyed in a matter of moments. And, then be living in utter fear of a large scale nuclear accident. It is completely unfathomable for those us who have never been in that position before.

I can remember the scenes of utter destruction in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. As we drove down streets, all that was left were concrete slabs where homes used to stand & large piles of debris. We walked down one street, charged with cleaning up debris in front of homes. We picked up small pieces of people's lives. I can only imagine what the clean up effort will be like in Northern Japan. Hard doesn't even begin to describe it.

So, I hold them in my prayers. All the relief workers, the survivors, those who are seeking the whereabouts of family & friends, those working in the nuclear plant to avert a major accident. May God hold them close.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Journey with Jesus: Reshaping (Day 6)

I will fully admit that I am not doing as well as I wished with this whole blogging each day thing. But, I am working on it! So, here's a post about yesterday.

This past weekend, I spent time down in Maryland & DC with some dear friends I made when I was an intern at a church there. I absolutely love going down there - seeing old hangout places, spending time with friends, eating good food at places near & dear to my heart. It was a good time & I was able to clear my mind a bit. However, it was also daylight savings weekend - spring forward...not fun at all! On Saturday, I made a decision to spend one more night there & travel home early Sunday morning. I was EXHAUSTED! But, made it home in time for Sunday stuff...but a nap was in order later on.

So, that gets me to yesterday (day 6). I had rescheduled my regular iron infusion from Friday to yesterday morning at 8am (wow, I am nuts). Glad I had my cup of coffee because we ran into some strange issues with my insurance. The system was down, so they were unable to confirm my eligibility. Yep. After many phone calls & delays, I did get my infusion after all. But, it was not the most ideal start to the day.

After the infusion, I went to get my hair cut (again!). A few weeks ago, I got it cut, but it was awful. So, a great stylist said she could reshape it for me. And, she did & it is fabulous. A little reshaping does wonders for hair & wonders for the soul. I felt much better when I left the salon. Then, I had lunch with a great friend - another example of reshaping my day. We laughed, shared stories about life & work, & enjoyed a great lunch. Then, I hit the mall for a little bit of retail therapy & chocolate ice cream:)

My day went from pretty crummy to pretty good. It was reshaped, in more ways than one. I think that is what Lent is about - reshaping & recentering ourselves, all with God's help. So, I am grateful for yesterday - the good & bad. It was a good day, indeed.

Journey with Jesus: Tempting Times (Day 5)

Journey with Jesus: Tempting Times
March 13, 2011
Text: Matthew 4.1-11

Lent has officially begun – our journey with Jesus for forty days & nights. We gathered here on Wednesday to hear the scriptures that proclaim our need for God & we were marked with the sign of ashes upon our foreheads – an outward sign of our mortality & penitence. And, so as we move forward in this season, we will encounter Jesus in different places & situations, as walk with him on his journey towards Jerusalem. And, today we find Jesus in the wilderness, after having fasted for forty days & nights, facing temptations from the adversary.

When we think of temptation, our minds often drift towards the pushing of the snooze button, seeing a yummy pastry in front of us, drinking one more cup of coffee, speeding around a slow car in an effort to get there faster. For some, temptation comes in the form of seeking power, a drive for more wealth, desire for another person, even if they are already in a relationship. Temptation is strong in our society – it surrounds us each day, from the time we wake until our heads hit the pillow at night. We are bombarded with images of what we should buy next - what will make us rich or more beautiful or stronger. It is nearly impossible to go through the day without being faced with some sort of tempting situation. And, we are almost immune to it all – it seems like a normal part of life.

And, so in these tempting times we live in, we can be easily swept up into it all, & then we look up, only to find ourselves in the midst of the wilderness of competing voices. We have lost our center, our balance, & our way out. How do we recapture our center? How do we regain our balance? How do we find our way out of the wilderness?

I believe the key is found in the experiences of Jesus with the adversary. Jesus faces three temptations, but they all have a similar theme – the allure of power. In the first scene, the adversary tells Jesus to turn stone into bread. While Jesus is pretty hungry, following a forty day fast, he does not give in. Instead, he quotes a familiar line from the book of Deuteronomy, “one does not live by bread alone.” While bread does sustain us & would nourish a very hungry Jesus, it is not worth giving into this temptation. God is the ultimate nourishment – the one who gives us our daily bread. God holds the power here, not the adversary’s temptation.

In scene two, the adversary takes Jesus up to a high place, where they were able to see out across a vista of the world. All Jesus would need to do is to worship the adversary, rather than God, & it would all be his – all the glory, authority, & power. For some of us, this would be a strong temptation – we see this playing out in various nations across the globe. There are many who seek the power & the glory, no matter the cost to other people or other countries. The temptation is just too great. But, it is not too great for Jesus. Again, he quotes scripture as his response – “it is written, ‘worship the Lord your God, & serve only him.” We are all called to worship God alone, not the world & not the allure of power.

Finally, we get to the third & final scene. Jesus is taken up to the high pinnacle of the temple & told to just jump – jump off & if he truly was the Son of God, he would not suffer any injury. I am not sure if we would do this one – just jump without any reassurance of safety. The adversary even goes as far as quoting scripture himself from the book of Isaiah, “he will command his angels concerning you, to protect you” & “on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” It seems the adversary has caught onto what Jesus was doing, thus trying to convince him with the words of scripture. I must admit, this was a pretty good argument for falling into the temptation – words of scripture & faith that God will protect. However, once again, Jesus is not willing to do it. He says, “do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Even though, God helps us in our times of trouble, we are not to test God. God is already there, there is no real need to test that.

So, the adversary is done. Jesus resisted all of the temptations placed before him. And, the key to it all was relying on the Word of God. It is about trusting in God’s presence with us & that our relationship with God will keep us centered. Temptations occur & we can easily give into them. And, we do sometimes. But, this is the time – this Lenten season – to truly take stock of where we are, what wilderness we find ourselves in, what temptations we are confronted with - & to re-center & find our balance again. This happens when we fully rely on God & not on the allures of power, wealth, or happiness in the world. Those are only fleeting moments, but ultimately leave us right where we are – in the midst of the wilderness.

Even though, we live in the midst of these tempting times, we can trust in the power of God, not the power of the world. And, so as we move through this Lenten season, may you find the Word of God a comforting place to go in times of distress & times of temptation. May you take the time to examine where you are & the time to re-center your lives back on God. In the words of poet Ted Loder, this prayer is one I offer you today –

Eternal One,
Silence from whom my come;
Questioner from whom my questions arise;
Lover from whom all my loves are hints;
Disturber in whom alone I find my rest;
Mystery in whose depths I find healing & myself;
Enfold me now in your presence;
Restore to me your peace;
Renew me through your power;
And ground me in your grace.


*Prayer from Guerrillas of Grace, by Ted Loder

Friday, March 11, 2011

Journey with Jesus: Days 2 & 3

Yesterday, after a meeting with the area pastors, I got in my car & drove down to the Maryland/DC area for a few days away. This was something that I needed in order to clear my mind. So, today I am in the city. Right now, I am writing this from a coffee shop in Dupont Circle.

I love coming into the city of DC. It is one of my favorite places to walk around & a great location for people watching. I grabbed a seat facing the window out onto New Hampshire Ave, so I can watch the people go by. I wonder where all of these people are going - business meetings, to their places of work, tourists, students, & of course, how many actually work in the federal government. I always hope that I will run into a DC celebrity - I've had luck in the past - Ted Kennedy in Georgetown, Rudy Guiliani near the White House, & former VP Cheney's motorcade leaving the White House. So, maybe my luck will continue today!

My day will consist of writing my sermon for Sunday, a great deal of people watching, hitting up the great Kramerbooks here in Dupont, & if I have time, maybe a quick stroll through the National Gallery of Art. I love days like this - fresh scenery, different people, & a chance to clear my head as Lent begins.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Journey with Jesus: Lent Begins

"Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, & with mourning; rend your hearts & not your clothing. Return to the Lord your God..."
- Joel 2.12

Today is Ash Wednesday. The day when we stop, when we are marked with the sign of ashes upon our foreheads, & the day we begin our annual pilgrimage with Christ towards Jerusalem. For the next 40 days & 40 nights (plus Sundays), we will take the time for self-examination & reflection. It is a wonderful time to delve deeply within ourselves & into God's Word.

Many folks will commit to giving something up for Lent - like chocolate, alcohol, social networking, meat, etc. While I think these are wonderful commitments, I am of the camp that believes in adding a spiritual practice which will strengthen & deepen my relationship with myself & with God. This year, I am committing to writing daily on this blog - whether it is a reflection on scripture, a photo of something that catches my eye, or my reflections on what is going on the world around me. I will also be posting my sermons for the next 5 Sundays in Lent, plus my homilies for Maundy Thursday & Good Friday. I want to commit myself to more time for reflection & this way, there are people to keep me accountable.

This is my second Ash Wednesday as pastor of my church. Six lovely ladies of my church came to our noon service today. I love these moments - prayers, reading the scriptures for today, time of silence for reflection, & saying to them as I place the mark on their foreheads - "from dust you were created & to dust you shall return." And, I have the honor of doing it again this evening after our midweek fellowship dinner. Despite the stress & the frustration that comes with ministry, it is these moments that remind me of why I am a pastor. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow & Sickness

As you can see, more snow has arrived in Eastern PA! I think there is probably about 12 or 13 inches out there. It certainly does make for pretty pictures & lovely scenery to look at from inside the warmth of my home.

The snow has also allowed me time to recover from my latest bout with illness. At the end of last week, I thought I was coming down with a cold. Well, not so much. I actually have some weird, rare virus that has attacked my thyroid. And, it landed me in the hospital overnight this week to treat some pretty bad dehydration. I am certainly glad to be on the mend, but it will take some time to get back to 100%.

Snow & sickness do remind me that things do not always go as planned. Those of us who are planners (yours truly) really revel in our plans, our calendars, our to-do lists. But, when 12 inches of snow falls & you get sick, you are forced to change plans & take time to rest. So, that's what I am doing - intentional rest, lots of fluids, & taking time to enjoy the scenery.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Reflection on violence and civility

Over these last 48 hours or so, since I first heard the news of the horrific shooting in Tucson, Arizona, I've been thinking about the heated language we use in this country. So many of the political commentators on cable news, on the radio, on the internet, from all parts of the ideological spectrum, use such harsh tones & harsh words, often times filled with violent images or undertones. Not to mention those in elected offices, those who run in the elections, those who support & campaign for candidates. It is heated, it is often ugly, and threatening.

And, we've just gone along, like nothing was out of the ordinary. Believing our words do not have consequences is commonplace now. But, our words DO have consequences.

Whether or not this young man was influenced by the heated rhetoric & discourse plagueing our country, it is time for a change. Big time change. We cannot continue to speak to each other or about each other in this manner. Civility is an absolute must. Just because we have the right to free speech does not mean we should use heated & violent language & images in our discourse with one another, on television or radio, or in print. I am all for free speech, but respectful & tolerant free speech.

We owe this to ourselves, to each other, and to honor the memory of all who are lost to senseless outbursts of violence. Civility is of utmost importance. I am committing to this and I hope you will too.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Whose We Are

My sermon for this day, influenced by the events in Tucson yesterday. May the healing waters flow over & over & over us all.

Whose We Are
Preached at First Presbyterian, Parkesburg
January 9, 2011
Text: Matthew 3.13-17

For me, there is no better place in the world to reflect than on the beach. There is something powerful about walking down across the sand, watching the water flow in and flow back out, sometimes crashing ashore loudly or quietly rippling across the sand. And, if you are watching closely, you will see the water bring things ashore, but also take things away. A couple of weeks ago, I was walking on the beach of Tybee Island in Georgia, just watching the water flow in and out, over and over again. And, all I felt was a strong sense of peace washing over me – a peace that allowed me to let go of all the stuff I was holding onto, and know deeply that God was taking it all away from me, just as the waters of the Atlantic were taking the tiny shells back out to sea. Not only that, being at the shore allows me to think carefully about who I am, mostly because I am away from all the craziness of my regular life. And, the water reminds me that I am constantly being re-created in the image of God.

I don’t know how Jesus really felt about water, but it seems to me that he had a close relationship with the power of the water. And, water plays a significant role throughout the whole of our scripture – from the waters of creation, to the waters of the flood, to water springing forth from the rock, the parting of the sea – the water shapes the landscape of the scripture & over and over again, shapes the lives of God’s people. There is something truly wonderful and mysterious about the power of water in our lives.

And, today we reflect upon what is commonly referred to as Baptism of the Lord Sunday, where we commemorate Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan. He went to the river, down to the waters, where he found his cousin John, the one who would baptize him. John was a little taken aback by his dear cousin’s request, since he was the One, the Messiah. John certainly did not feel worthy enough to perform such an intimate and powerful act as baptism. He wanted to be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. But, Jesus simply said to him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” His words of “let it be” echo his mother Mary’s words to the angel before his birth. She knew then & Jesus knew the Spirit was coming down & in that place, fulfilling God’s Word & God’s promise to the world.

So, the two men walk down into the river Jordan, this powerful & mythical river where so much history flowed for centuries before, and John performed the baptism by lowering Jesus into the water. And as Jesus was coming up from beneath the waters, the sky suddenly opened up & “he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove & alighting on him”. This was certainly no ordinary baptism! It was a scene of deep peace and of clarity for Jesus’ mission that was ahead of him, for his baptism marked the beginning of his public ministry here on earth.

The most powerful part of this story comes in the final verse – “And a voice from heaven said, ‘this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” A beautiful public statement of who Jesus was & whose he was - the Son of God. His identity was made clear & it confirmed his ministry here on earth.

These words of “with whom I am well pleased” are ones that God speaks of us. We are all beloved children of God, with whom God is well pleased. Children of God, it is who we are. And, this identity we have from God calls us into service, just as it called Jesus into service here on earth. The waters that flowed over us in our baptism confirmed that in us, and those waters continually do so each and every day.

Six beloved children of God died yesterday in Tucson, Arizona, and 13 more are fighting for their lives, after a gunman senselessly open fire during a gathering with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Representative Giffords is committed to service on this earth through her efforts to work for her constituents there in the Tucson area. Federal Judge John Roll was committed to serving this country and serving the needs of the people. 30 year old Gabe Zimmermann served his country well & was committed to serving the people of Arizona on behalf of Congresswoman Giffords, just as he had coordinated yesterday’s meet & greet event. Even 9 year old Christina Green, a light to her family and her friends, whose service was tragically cut way too short. All 19 who were involved in this senseless act of violence were and are children of God, with whom God is well pleased.

Waters are flowing through the tears of those who mourn the dead and pray for the injured. Waters are flowing from the heart of God, as God welcomed those who died home into eternal life. Waters must flow to bring about peace, instead of hate and anger. Waters must flow to change the ways we speak to each other and about each other, so we can stop the flow of blood of innocent people caught in the crossfire of anger and hate.

We are all called to do our part to change the world we live in, to bring about God’s shalom. This is part of who we are as beloved children of God. Those waters that flowed at our baptism sealed us with God’s love and grace, give us the strength to work for peace in our world. We must work towards ending senseless acts of violence that continue to haunt us and cause such pain. And, we must honor the memory of those who were lost yesterday, but also honor those who are fighting for their lives this morning, and commit to changing our words and our actions, so that we do not promote violence, but instead promote shalom, God’s peace.

Beloved children of God, on this day, as we remember the baptism of Jesus Christ, let us commit ourselves again to our calling – to work for peace, to treat one another with respect, and to let the waters flow over us and over our world. May the waters wash away the blood of the innocent. May the waters of healing flow. May the waters wash over us and cleanse us again. Cleanse us all, O God. Amen.