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.