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.