Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Between

Beginning this Sunday, January 1 and through Easter morning, I will be walking sequentially through the Gospel of Mark in our Sunday morning worship. Some of my upcoming posts will be on the passages in Mark I will not be preaching on. You can hear the sermons I do preach on through the church's website. I will also still post traces of God's grace that I notice within my life. I hope these in between passages along with the sermons will help open you to the mystery and power of Mark's story telling.

Click here to read Mark 1:21-45

Jesus begins his ministry in the wilderness through baptism and prayer. It is Mark's nod to Exodus where the Jewish people wandered for forty long years. Out of the wilderness, Jesus gathers and attracts a community of people around him. We often marvel at the willingness of the disciples to leave a job in order to follow him. And yet, in Jesus' day to be invited to follow a teacher or a rabbi was like getting into an esteemed college. It was a huge honor to be asked to be a disciple. And while their were sacrifices, in Mark's gospel we read that there were still connections with family (see 1:29-31).
What sticks out for me in verses 21-45 are the vivid word choices Mark employs. He uses words like 'astonished' (22); 'cried out' (24); 'rebuked' (25); amazed (27); 'fame' (28); and my favorite - Simon and the others 'hunted' (36) for Jesus.
It is odd language. It is evocative and emotional. And not exactly the sort of words we usually associate with the gospels.
Mark uses words like begging, kneeling, moved with compassion (which literally means to 'have your bowels moved), and sternly ordering.
And because Mark uses an economy of words, you center in on this strong words that awaken a strong reaction.
While it is interesting to contemplate why Mark used these active, emotional, strong words.

What sticks with me more is this...

When was the last time you had your faith stirred?

When was the last time you were astounded or cried out or felt your whole self moved deeply or even were bend on finding the sacred?

I grew up in a part of the Protestant faith that is self described as 'heady'. We analyze and hypothesize and intellectualize. I often have felt like our deepest goal is to come up with a sound, rational argument for faith.
Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoy thinking. But living in my head can cut me off from emotions and the rest of my body. I believe when God created us in God's image God did so with the prayer that we would be thinking and feeling and living full human embodied beings. God created us whole-ly (and holy). That means if we live too long in our minds or hearts or physical needs/wants, we become disconnected from the other parts of ourselves that are important.

What I love about Mark is that you feel his passion for telling the story about Jesus jump off the page. I image Mark (whoever that was) feverishly writing, unable to do anything else until he got this deeply felt confession off his chest. He invites you into that same feeling.

So, when was the last time your faith was deeply stirred or you felt so compelled to respond to the traces of God's grace in your life?

I hope you will ponder that question as we approach a new year and new beginning. I pray you will sense God's presence within your life in a real way. May the God of active verbs and who loves us fully surround you and sustain you throughout 2012.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas

On a silent night
On a holy night
Long ago the first faint gleam of Christmas
Broke into our world
It all happened in a little town of Bethlehem
And while others might have said, 'what child is this?'
Two parents knew in their hearts who the child was
Who slept away in a manger
But that wasn't all
Angel from the realms of glory
Sang out with gusto to shepherd who watched their flock by night
And hark the herald angels sing out still
The good news of great joy to all people
Unto us a child was born
Unto us a son give
Who is the light to the world
Who is the response to the prayer, O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Who is Christ.

As we inch toward that silent night and holy night this year,
May God's unconditional and unceasing love's pure light
Shine forth in your life.

Thank you for reading Grace Traces...I look forward to continuing to share random thoughts and moments when I notice the traces of God's grace in my life in ways that hopefully speak deeply to your heart, life, and faith throughout 2012.

Merry Christmas to you and God's peace in 2012

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stage Set

Over the last several weeks, I have been searching for a new nativity set. Our current set is made of porcelain and is fragile. I really wanted one my kids could touch without sending my anxiety soaring that they might drop one of the pieces.

One of the reason why I think nativity sets are important is they invite us to stand in the straw. We see the scene and we are drawn into the stable to be part of the cast of characters witnessing the birth of Jesus. But most importantly, creche pieces are met to be held in our hands because the whole set proclaims the most basic, profound truth of Christmas: God comes into our lives, God moves into our neighborhood, God in flesh and bone.

Christmas is not some abstract idea about God. Rather, Christmas proclaims loud and clear that the living, breathing, laughing, crying, eating with outcasts, calling fishermen and women at the well to be disciples, story telling, bread breaking, trial facing, death conquering God comes into our life again as 2011 dwindles and 2012 dawns. That is what holding a porcelain shepherd or sheep or Mary or Joesph and especially a small baby Jesus means to me.

So, I started searching. When we were out shopping, I'd wander over to the Christmas display and usually there was one creche scene set up...but they just did not get for me.

So, I started searching the internet. And I found out that the first nativity scene was a living nativity done by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. That will be a really cool fact if I am ever on Jeopardy! But did not really help my search.

So, I started looking on Amazon. I found a really interesting nativity set featuring ducks which reminds me that there are some strange things in this world.

So, I kept searching and even discovered that at one time in England people would make a mince pie and said that as the cradle of Christ. While I am not sure about the sacredness of a rubber duck nativity, I am okay with the sacredness of pie. But, atlas, the Puritans did away with this tradition calling it, "an idolatry of crust."

And we thought we had problems today.

My problem was still finding a creche scene I was comfortable letting my kids get close enough to so they could sense the good news of the Christmas story.

But then amid my searching, one night I watched as my daughter carefully handled each of the porcelain pieces, setting the scene with such grace. I watched my son not argue with her about the scene, but he watched peacefully.

Suddenly, I realized what I was really looking for...I had already found. Right there, without a new set or one of ducks or even one made of pie. While I was searching, my kids had already found the profound truth: God is with us in ways that stirs our hearts to act with care and kindness and love.

May serendipitous moments of God's grace be seen in your life this week as we continue to travel to the stable and manger where love's pure light shines forth and makes all the difference.

Grace and peace to you all this Advent season.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


My family and I are still noshing on leftover turkey. Which got me thinking about how leftovers have really gotten a bad reputation over the years. True...turkey sandwiches night after night can numb the taste buds...but leftovers can also inspire us to try new recipes or even experiment with our own culinary talents.

And that got me thinking about the sermon I preached on Jeremiah 18:1-11 a few weeks ago...Thanksgiving weekend actually. There are some times I want a mulligan on sermons. Not that the one I preach was necessarily bad (you can click here to hear the "Reformed and Reshaped sermon) It was just that I could sense that a few of the pieces were not quite coming together the way I'd like.

This passage from Jeremiah talks about God being like a potter who reworks a 'marred' piece of clay. On the surface, this can feel like a less than affirming image of God or of us as humanity either. To be sure, we all have flaws or things we want to change. But to think of God reshaping those flaws or even us entirely feels forceful. Not to mention, we are surrounded by images daily that point out our shortcomings when it comes to our skin, our clothes, our car, the top ten ways we could be a better parent, save more, and have fresher breath. I want to come to church and for a few fleeting moments remember that I have gifts and do occasionally get things right and that God sees that too.

Yet the more I have thought of this image of a potter and clay, the less I am convinced that there is really anything forceful about it. Think of it this way. If you are working with clay and the vase you are shaping ends up like a blob in your hand; chances are you will be a bit frustrated. If when you start to reshape and reform that clay you are still carrying that frustration, if the tension sits on your shoulders, there is a really good chance the clay is going to rebel and become misshaped just like it did the first time.

You have to work with the clay (not against it or force it). You have to be in tune to places where the clay is getting too thin or the shape is starting to be distorted. Doing that in a frustrated or angry way just does not work. How much more for us as humans involved in this profound and life giving relationship with God?

So, if God is reshaping us and reforming us, I don't believe it is done in frustration at all. Just as clay can have a life of its much more for you and I. God's reworking sees our potential, sees the way you and I are taking shape, sees where we are running a bit thin (especially this time of year).

Two weeks ago, I wish I would have had that insight.

But then again, like the leftover turkey tetrazzini my family will be enjoying tonight, I might have missed a chance to write this post.

May God's presence and peace surround you during this sacred time of year in a way that gives you strength and fills you with God's love. May the traces of God's grace be felt as we inch closer to Bethlehem this Advent season.

God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

  A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in ...