Friday, May 20, 2016

End of the week prayer

In the beginning, we start each week
Not with a full email inbox or some manic Monday...
But with Sunday.
Rest
Renewal
Worship in community.
We center our hearts is in the promise of God's presence.
That where it starts.

Sometimes by Monday that promise fads and feels fleeting.
Schedules full of appointments (doctor or work or both)
To do lists full
Or days that seem to stretch on endlessly and we wonder, "What am I here for?"

By Wednesday perhaps we feel lost, wandering in the wilderness.
Or excited by the prospect of some new challenge.
Or don't even know that Wednesday is different than the day before.

Finally, we arrive at Friday.
Perhaps with the promise of time away.
Or perhaps just as long of a to do list as you had at work...now at home.

What is the rhythm of your week?
Is there one?
Or does it feel chaotic, indiscernible?

Look back at the last five days...
Where did you sense God?
Where did you feel like you were on autopilot?
What have you forgotten or can even recall?

Weeks flow from one to the next.
What separates the space and time is to invite God to sit beside us...
In the stillness of this moment to
Look back...
Look around...
Look ahead...
And know the One who holds all time in God's gracious hands.

And may there be more than a trace of God's grace in that pause.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Story Part 2



How you start a story matters and makes a difference.  As I said in the previous post, you could start with your profession...family...home state...current residence...and depending on which road you begin to travel will guide and ground the conversation.  So, where does God's story begin?  It begins NOT...as might be assumed...with Adam and Eve eating an apple, but with God craft and creating all that is seen and unseen.  More importantly, everything is called, "Good".  The Hebrew word here is, "Tov."  We begin with goodness, God-ness, the blessedness of Tov in our lives.  We are formed and fashioned with a prayer for blessing...not brokenness.  In fact, scripture never even says the words, "original sin."  What we do hear is original blessing and goodness.  I am grateful to Brian McLaren who helps us see the overarching narrative of Scripture moves from Creation to Crisis (in Genesis 3) to Call (or what I also think of as community/being the people of God in Exodus) to Conversations part 1 with Judges and Ruth to Conversations part 2 with the prophets to Christ to Church to Consummation.

That framework helps me not only in terms of understanding the Biblical story, but also my own story.  I have a beginning in Iowa, moving as a teenage which produced some crisis to a call from God in late adolescence to ministry to conversations I had in seminaries...to conversations I had in church (which is where you learn how much you don't know!) to encountering Christ to moments when I have experienced glimpses of grace in the church to moments of completeness.  Again, this is not about following a linear timeline one to the next.  Sometimes crisis leads to re-creation.  Or conversations find conclusion/consummation and even crisis.  These seven words dance together.  Mingle and mix together.  Inform and inspire each other.

So, I invite you this week, what do each of those words inspire or connect to your story?  How do they connect to your life?  I hope you will do this and as you do you might find more than a trace of God's grace in your life.

Grace and peace ~ Wes

Matthew 28



Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:16-20

There is always more than one sermon sitting in a particular passage of Scripture.  Last Sunday, I preached on Matthew 28:16-20.  I love that the literal translation is NOT, "Go therefore and make disciples," as though people were play dough we could mold or widgets mass produced on an assembly line.  Rather, the invitation is to "Go therefore discipling."  It is a verb.  It is a way of being in this world God so loves.  But I also really love that line of the disciples a few days after Easter worshiping AND doubting.  So, I am sharing a second sermon I wrote on this passage with you.  I pray you sense more than a trace of God's grace in it.  Grace and peace ~


A Spelunking Faith

Several years ago, I visited Hannibal, Missouri birth place and home of one of my favorite author’s, Mark Twain.  I remember I took in all the tourist attractions.  I saw Twain’s childhood home, the steam boat park near the Mississippi river, ate at Mark Twain Dinette where you too can enjoy a Mississippi Barbeque burger, and I remember we went spelunking, exploring a cave just as the characters in Tom Sawyer do.  The guide told us all kinds of stories about how Twain himself had been in that very cave.  We went deeper into the earth, darkness and dampness surrounded us.  It was hard to keep your footing on the slippery rocks and the slimy walls of the cave.  Never knowing when you might encounter God’s mistake in creation that we call bats.  Seriously mice should not fly.  At some point, the guide came to a chalk-drawn arrow.  There were the proverbial two paths.  One to the left and one to the right.  But which way to go?  He told a story that Twain always forgot which way lead him out of the cave, back into daylight.  But was the arrow true and to be trusted, or was it a rouse by someone who had a sarcastic sense of humor and might just draw the arrow the wrong way to throw you off?
In some ways the scripture passage today is like that arrow.  This story happens right on the heels of the very first Easter.  The women have been to the tomb, experienced its emptiness, encountered the resurrected Christ, ran and raced back, told the disciples to go to Galilee, a word that means circle, because poetically the disciples are returning full circle, right back to where they were called by Jesus, right back to where the ministry began and life forever changed.  It is as poet T.S. Eliot said, “After all our exploring we will return to where we started and know that place as if for the first time.” So, the disciples go home.  They go to one of the mountains.  Matthew isn’t interested in pinpointing the exact location, we can only guess for there are several mountains in Galilee.  Know that Galilee is not just the name of one place but a region the size approximately of Chicago.  And what I love is one verse in particular, the disciples worshiping the resurrected Jesus and some doubted.  Now, usually, we don’t see doubt and faith as compatible or necessary companions.  We see faith and doubt like that moment in the cave, you can either go in the direction of faith or toward doubt, the choice is yours.  We have made faith and doubt in tension with each other, sometimes even shaming people in the church who dare to raise questions or disagree.  But here in Scripture, Matthew’s last words, the lingering image he wanted to leave in telling the story of Jesus is that they worshiped and some doubted at the same time.  Now the Greek word here for doubt is distazo.  That is a great word.  Distazo.  And it is found in only one other place in Scripture and it is in Matthew’s gospel.  Remember when Jesus walked on water at night, and the disciples are in a boat, they think Jesus is a ghost or a bad dream, but Jesus bids Peter to come and walk on water too.  He does.  He is surrounded, steeped in the sacred, buoyed by this holy moment.  Then.  There is always a “then”.  He also sees, feels the wind, the chaos.  And he thinks, as I would, what in the world am I doing out of the safety and security of the boat?  He starts to sink.  Jesus catches him by the hand…another great image.  And says, why did you distazo, doubt?  Within our faith, there are times of worshiping and simultaneously distazo, doubt, because like Peter we see both the beauty and brokenness.  To be in this season after Pentecost, is a time of concurrently worshiping and distazo, doubt, because like the disciples in the passage this morning, we experience both joy and fear, both awe and concern.  To be clear, distazo is not cynicism or always being skeptical.  Distazo is not be argumentative for the sake of it or a contrarian.  Distazo is moments when we waver or hesitate.  It is times when we hold two distinct, differing opinions.  Makes me think of the great words of Fredrick Buecerner who said that doubts are the ants in the pants of faith it keeps us moving awake.  Or Rob Bell says that doubts are proof that your faith has a pulse, is alive, that you have not gone on autopilot or fallen asleep.  So, unlike that arrow, you can actually have faith and doubt coexist, be intertwined in beautiful ways.  To distazo is a willingness to go to the places where we are uncertain and unclear carrying with us whatever parts and pieces of faith we can.  I pray that in this season after Pentecost, the next twenty-six week, this time in liturgical language we call ordinary and take us all the way to the door step of Advent next November, we would be open not only to worship, but also to exploring and spelunking within our faith.  That we would ask questions, refine and reframe our questions, let them sit there.  That we would know the truth of poet Maya Angelou who said, “I am taken aback when people walk up and tell me they are Christian.  My first response is a question, Already?”  This pathway of faith has moments of confidence and certainty as well as times when the questions loom large with no good response.  Because I know you might be curious, Twain wasn’t fooling, we followed the arrow and I am proof that we made it out okay.  So, as we hold together faith and mystery and questions that have no easy answers, I want to offer a poem:

Stripped by God by Cynthia Langston Kirk

What would happen if I pursued God -
If I filled my pockets with openness,
Grabbed a thermos half full of fortitude,
And crawled into the cave of the Almighty
Nose first, eyes peeled, heart hesitantly following
Until I was face-to-face
With the raw, pulsing beat of Mystery?

What if I entered and it looked different
Than anyone ever described?
What if the cave was too large to be fully known,
Far too extensive to be comprehended by one person or group,
Too vast for one dogma or doctrine?

Would I shatter at such a thought?
Perish from paradox or puzzle?
Shrink and shrivel before the power?
Would God be diminished if I lived a question
rather than a statement?
Would I lose my faith
As I discovered the magnitude of Grace?

O, for the willingness to explore
To leave my tiny vocabulary at the entrance
And stand before you naked
Stripped of pretenses and rigidity,
Disrobed of self-righteousness and tidy packages,

Stripped of all that holds me at a distance for you
And your world.
Strip me, O God,
Then clothe me in curiosity and courage.

Amen.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Story



What is your story?  When you meet someone for the first time, in that great dance of getting acquainted where we doe-see-doe around, sometimes stepping on a foot as topics of politics or parenting or profit come up...what do you tell someone first?

Maybe it is your job.  I am a pastor first and foremost, which means that people already have an opinion about me before getting any deeper than that surface level piece of information.  Some want to tell me why they are "spiritual but not religious" or how they go to church every Sunday or how the church hurt/harmed them.  So maybe I am a listener first.

Or maybe you tell others about your family.  I am a husband, father to two amazing tweens...almost to be teens (pray for me).  I could tell about the loss of my mother...although probably not when we first meet.  I could tell about Iowa which is where I grew up and that soil shaped my soul.

Or maybe you tell others about where you are now.  Florida is always a great conversation starter.  The joke is when we hear a headline that starts, "A man was driving and ended up crashing into a boa constrictor store..." ever person I know immediately starts praying, "Don't let it be in Florida... don't let it be in Florida."  People can tease all they want...but fifty degrees IS cold.  And a walk on the beach with waves crashing as if to clap their hands is a spiritual practice.

Or maybe you start with a hobby...after all I am more than a job or a role in a family system or a neighborhood....I am created in God's image and try to life that out playfully and prayerfully every day.

Where would YOU start your story?  Because today is a good day to start.  And over the next few posts I will invite us into thinking not only about our own individual or isolated stories, but how that might connect with God and God's story that has been unfolding for centuries.  So, get ready.  Because this is going to be a blast.

Grace and peace ~

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Midweek Prayer


God of middle places where it is no longer the beginning,
And the end is not quite as close as we'd like.

God of slogging and barely surviving.
God of thrills and thriving.
God of messiness and uncertainty.
God of crystal clear clarity.
Meet us in this Wednesday moment.

For some, life feels stuck in the middle.
We wait for test results.
We wait for resolutions to relationships break downs.
We wait for conclusions rather than another chapter.

Where are YOU today not only in Wednesday on  a calendar...
But a Wednesday frame of mind, heart, or soul?

Where does it feel like you can't turn back...
Not sure you can keep trudging on?

Where do you need to be reminded that God is in the Wednesdays of life?
That maybe the phrase we need is TGIW....the middle.

After all the middle can be a great, amazing place.
The delicious middle of a gooey cinnamon roll.
The middle of a GREAT book where you keep turning pages not wanting it to end.
The middle of a hug where you feel your heart sync with the one you embrace.

Middles can be good.
Middles can be a place for Good.

May this middle of the week invitation open you to more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings for this middle day.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Return


It has been almost a month since I posted.  During that time, I spent a week getting ready for a trip to a retreat center in NC...spending a week at said retreat center...and upon return trying to catch up from being gone.  Despite not being able to post to my blog...which I find to be a very meaningful spiritual practice...otherwise the experience was totally worth it.  If you are like me, it takes some time to disconnect and decompress.  I don't instantly or immediately feel at peace.  But the week I spent nestled in the foothills of NC, I was surrounded by the beauty of creation.

There were the rustic roads to wander down and get lost in thought/prayer/communion with God.  There were hills that for my flat-land of Florida legs challenged me a good way.  There was conversations and information that challenged me in another way.  There were moments spent talking, shedding tears, reflecting in quiet, and re-connecting.  All of this was done with limited cell phone reception.  I had to get past the panic of not being always available.  We are so hyper-connected in our world that going off the grid is not easy.

I remember when we first introduced our kids to texting...they too had to realize that just because a text message came through did not mean you had to rush to grab your phone.  In fact, our world might be a kinder, gentler, loving place if we did not always respond instantly to emails or text back our first thought.  That also goes for face-to-face conversation.  In the heat of the moment is when I say the boneheaded things I immediately want to snatch from thin air and shove back from whence the words came.

I am realizing that you don't actually have to go off the grid or escape from cell phone towers and civilization.  There can be fasts from blogging, Facebook posting, and even talking on my phone while still very much in the range of all those services.  It takes discipline.  It takes putting my phone in the back of my car so I am not tempted to look at it.  It takes powering down the laptop so it is not always accessible.  It takes letting this amazing invention called, "voice mail" receive the call and I will return it once I have a few moments to breathe and let God's spirit catch up to me.

I am reminded of the quote from Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, who would quip, "I am so busy today...I must make more time for prayer."  Usually, prayer is the first thing tossed out the window the second people want to meet.  I am reminded that slowly chewing your food is a great prayer practice in a world of drive thru and fast food that we barely taste...except for all the sugar and salt.  I am reminded that even a red light is an invitation to pray, pause, and remind ourselves that this world already has a Savior...and to the best of my knowledge God is not looking for another right now.

I pray this week you will find moments to go off the grid...and when you do you might sense MORE than just a trace of God's grace.

Blessings and good health~

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Preparing for the Prodigal Son



I was around seven years old when my family made our usual pilgrimage to the local Kmart to hunt and gather our necessary provisions.  At some point in that trip that flashing blue light special lured me away from walking next to my parents.  I am still convinced that strobe light had a hypnotic effect upon you, messing with your mind that of course you needed two towels for five dollars, what a deal!  In my case, I was distracted by a display of stuffed animals.  When trance I was in wore off, my mom and dad were gone.  I glanced down nearby aisles.  Nothing.  I walked to a different department, no parents.  I started to scramble around the store, but my family was not in sight.  My child-like wisdom I decided my best option was to pace nervously in front of the customer service desk because I was too shy to go up and tell them I was lost.  So back and forth, back and forth, like a human yo-yo, until one of the workers noticed this strange, peculiar, poor child.  I can still hear the speaker booming, “Paging Mrs. Bixby, Mrs. Bixby to the front counter please.”  The relief that washed over me when I was reunited is actually relived within my life when I find myself today lost trying to find someone’s home.  Or staring at the map in an unfamiliar city trying to get my bearings straight.  The experience of being lost is one we all share.  Each person has a story.  And each of us also know those moments of going astray, not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.  Moments when God feels as distant as the dwarf planet Pluto.  Times when a relationship that was meaningful suddenly ends.  Instances when I say and do the very thing I did not want to say or do, suddenly I am lost without ever leaving my familiar surroundings.
          The passage today tells us two stories of being lost.  First, one about a sheep.  Second, one about a coin.  The set ups are strikingly similar.  A shepherd has lost one of the herd, leaves the rest, and goes to search out the sheep that has gone astray.  In the second, a coin has been misplaced, so a woman lights a lamp, sweeps high and low for that missing money, until it is found.  In both parallel narratives, the culmination and conclusion is to throw a party when that which was lost is finally found.  Yet, behind and beneath these narratives are some peculiar realities.  First, in the sheep, the image is of the shepherd leaving instantly and immediately in the wilderness.  Have you ever wandered what about the other 99?  Sure, we might rationalize that the shepherd left the rest under the care of another or made sure they were safely in a pen.  But what if, it really is as foolish as it sounds.  To leave 99 sheep alone is like leaving 99 Jaguars with the keys in the ignition running in downtown Sarasota.  It is amazing the leaps our minds sometimes make.  Because I believe that all the parables are meant to leave us puzzling and shaking our heads in disbelief, I tend to lean toward thinking that maybe one of the points of this parable is the foolishness.  Just as my seven year old mind in that midst of that moment of lostness perhaps did not make the most rational choice, perhaps it was so with the shepherd too.  Or consider the woman who lights a lamp to find a coin.  Ever consider that the woman is wasting one resource (oil) to find another (coin)?  In burning the oil of the lamp the net of her actions was actually a deficit.

          I love the truth that at the end of both, the shepherd and woman throw a party.  As if to say, Let’s celebrate my irresponsibility that I lost a sheep and coin.  But maybe there is a truth inside this parable about leadership and even being the church.  I am susceptible to watching the bottom line, to making sure that the math adds up, to counting costs and being mindful of everything within the church.  I have been taught that is what a leader does.  But maybe a faithful leader in the church needs more than just the occasional moment of foolishness.  To say, “Let’s celebrate that I am learning from that thing I did last Thursday.”  To say, it is only by the grace of God that I even am standing here today.  Or to really let the wisdom of our ancient ancestors take hold of our life when they wrote, work as if it is all up to you, but pray as if it is all up to God.  This human condition of being lost has been with us since our earliest ancestors, we are all east of Eden, no matter what our actual address may be.  Along with being lost, we often feel insecure and afraid and uncertain.  And we are surrounded by the pushes and pulls, advertisers that say, just take another trip, just swipe the credit card, and that insecurity will melt away in your brand new car.  But once the smell has worn off, we realize that the uncertainty and lostness is now sitting right next to us in the passenger seat.  So, I keep returning to truth that my soul is restless, wandering, lost until I find my rest and home in God.  I continually remind myself that I cannot consume my way to completeness, but can be open to the goodness of God’s presence around me and within me day by day.  I still remember that after I was reunited with my parents that day in an Iowa Kmart, I ended up getting one of those stuffed animals, but more importantly that moment forever taught me what it meant and felt like to be at home and peace.  I pray we will all sense more than trace of that kind of grace this day.  Amen.