Friday, February 28, 2014


2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Healing stories are woven into every gospel.  And to be honest, given our scientific understandings and the growth in health care/hospitals, alongside new understandings of medicine with methods like acupuncture and vitamins and the complex make up of the food we eat; the stories as the ones above seem like a remnant of a bygone age.  They feel antiquated and perhaps the less said about these narratives, the better.  After all, is this even true?  How could commanding someone who has longed to walk for so many years suddenly stand up and start strolling or skipping along his merry way?  

There are two thoughts this narrative awakens in me.  First is the difference between healing and cure.  Healing relates to our overall wellness, the interconnection of mind, body, and spirit running on all cylinders - in sync and in harmony with each other.  Cure relates to an absence of illness.  I can be cured of what ails me without really being healed.  And I can feel healed while still living with an illness.  Most of the time, these two do go together, so it makes sense that we use the words interchangeably and conflate the meanings.  At other times, there are those who live with incurable cancer who have a tremendously peaceful/healed spirit they share with all those around them.  

The second thought is how often I get in my own way of feeling healed.  Something externally happens (some kind of loss) and my whole body/health/life/emotional/spiritual well being is turned upside down.  And while that is normal and natural, I can also let those bad days fester; and what is really making me ill is my own anger and excuses.  Of course I don't feel good, my co-worker is always being mean to me.  Of course I self-medicate with chocolate, I have teenagers.  The man, sitting by the edge of the pool had all sorts of reasons not to wade in the water.  Other people budged in line and they were just meanies!  

Sometimes what is really causing me to be un-well is a pity party with an invitation to just me.  Other times the illness needs a doctor.  Other times the illness needs companionship.  Other times the illness needs someone telling me to suck it up and realize that life is not fair.  Other times the illness confuses everyone and there is no one explanation or pill to solve my problems.

Life is that complex.  Healing and wellness inside that life is often even more complex.  And sometimes the best invitation is to spend today trying to notice and name the traces of God's grace in our life.  And I pray you and I will both attempt to do that today.  Who knows, we might even feel better.

Blessings ~   

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fresh and In Season

Ever since moving to Florida, I have been trying to adjust to a different rhythm and setting in life.  One of the many blessings is that right now it is strawberry season here in the Sunshine state.  The other night our family feasted on ripe, ruby red berries that were sweet to the tips of our tongues and a special treat to our still adjusting palates (after all nothing much grows right now in the bleak mid winter of the Midwest).  

Jesus has just had a life changing conversation with a Samaritan woman.  He has just offered her living water.  Then, the disciples come back and sound like my mother-in-law.  "Eat something, Jesus, you are skin and bones.  Why not have seconds on the pot roast?  More potatoes?"

Jesus then talks about the harvest.  While his words are a bit cryptic, at least they make some sense given the disciples were talking about food.  But, Jesus was not talking about harvesting strawberries or snowballs if you are reading this in the northern part of the country.  I think Jesus was using this as a metaphor for sharing our faith with each other.

Now, I am sure many of you just had flashes of being Jehovah's Witnesses, knocking on your neighbor's door, and trying to convert someone.  That is not really what I am talking about.  I don't know why this is the only image that comes to mind when we think about sharing faith.  Because the truth is, there are a multitude of ways we who drink from living water and seek to follow Christ can invite others to "Come and see".  It is not, to use Shane Hipps' words, trying to "Sell Water by the River".  What we are called to do is to let our faith shine like a light.  

But we also have to find our voice.  We can no longer assume "They will know we are Christians by our love."  It just does not work that way.  Neither do we need to be aggressive (or passive aggressive) about sharing our faith to every single person.  But there is a lot of room to roam in-between.  Current stats say that you already know lots of people who do not go to church.  Some because they are angry at church, but some are just waiting for someone to ask.  Some need to come to church and have their stereotypes of what church is dismantled by our extravagant welcome to whoever they are and wherever they are on live's journey.  

Too often I think the UCC is the best kept secret.  We hide behind long historical names on our church signs that have lost their meaning to many in this world (but not to the people in the pews - hence the tension).  So, short of changing our name, we need to find our voice and invite people.  Invite them to sit beside you in the pew.  Invite them to have coffee.  Be rude to your friends at church on Sunday morning for the sake of the stranger in your midst.  Learn the person's name, a bit about their history, and help connect them to others.  The earliest Christians were known for their care, that is how the church grew.  I think we can still care for people better than any other organization.  In that, we find living water.  That kind of vision for the church today is always fresh and in matter the month or the weather outside.

May our churches abound with more than traces of God's grace, but with an extravagant welcome this Sunday.

Blessings ~

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Love is in the air

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,[e] can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

Recently I was talking with our music minister and he asked a GREAT question, "What made you fall in love with the church?"  What/when was that moment that sent a chill sensation down your spine or goose bumps on your arms or the tiny hairs on your neck to stand on end?  Maybe it was singing "Joy to the World" on Christmas Eve drenched in candle light or maybe it was "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" with brass blaring and you sang out with more gusto than you ever had.  Maybe it was an ordinary day when a church member asked how you were doing and you told the person you were having a rotten day, and the person listened to you!  Maybe it was the soup or Jell-O salad they brought when your mom died or the hug you receive every Sunday.

The story of the church is a love story; a story of God's love incarnate in Jesus and in us as the living the body of Christ today.  Since it is almost Valentine's Day, it is good to remind ourselves the truth about love.  Love is patient and kind, according to 1 Corinthians 13.  Love forgives and seeks reconciliation when wronged.  Love is prayerful and persistent.  Love is playful.  Love does not always look like the Twilight series, it is not always intense or passionate or send chills down your spine.  Sometimes love is washing dishes and seeing the hope/peace/joy in the mundane of life.  

The story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman is a love story of sorts.  She falls in love with the truth and promise that she is a beloved child of God.  Maybe this was the first time, or maybe it was the hundredth time.  She realizes she is no longer defined or confined by societal roles or debates about where to worship.  She is drenched in the bright light of God's love.  

We need moments like that and we need moments to remember why, when, where, and how you fell in love with the church.  Was it the liturgy or hymns?  Was it a sermon?  Was it the caring hug or note you received that strangely warmed your heart?

When and why did you fall in love with the church?  As you prayerfully ponder that question, may the traces of God's grace stir with love around you.

Blessings ~

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Samaritan Worship

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you[c] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he,[d] the one who is speaking to you.”

There are two important issues that arise from these ten verses.  First, the conversation about the Samaritan woman's husband.  We need to name and claim the unfortunate legacy that too often preachers have used Jesus' words in verse 17 as either a reprimand or judgment upon the woman.  But I don't read those words that way.  I don't think Jesus was condemning the woman in any way.  Rather, I think he saw her heartbreak.  Remember in Jesus' day, women had very little say in who they married.  And if a woman's husband died, something that was quite in the book of Ruth, then the woman was passed along to one of her husband's brothers.  Imagine that!  I don't even know if I want to.  Such blatant disrespect of a woman's rights makes my heart break.  It is NOT the Samaritan woman's fault that she does not have a husband.  More to the point, Jesus does not seem to condemn her for this situation AND he does not even seem to care all that much.  It is a passing comment on the way to a greater verse in the midst of a very long narrative.  It is our own unnamed sexism that has shined a light on this verse and it is good to re-think our understanding of this.  

Second issue and I think the bigger point of these ten verses is worship.  How you worship and where you worship is vital.  The Samaritans were not only a mixture of foreign and Jewish DNA, but also when the people of God came back from Exile, the Samaritans opposed re-building the temple in Jerusalem.  We need to remember this is a family fight, like all disagreements in families, they are painful.  Words get said that should not have been spoken, people's feelings get hurt because in families we often know just the right words to push each other's buttons.  When the Samaritans raised the question about rebuilding and where to rebuild, there were some in the Jewish family who were offended.  OF COURSE they should re-build Solomon's temple in exactly the same spot...that is holy ground.  Others were not sure.  

We face such difficult decisions in the church today.  The decisions center around budget and buildings and worship styles.  God created us to reflect the beautiful diversity of God's fingerprints.  But the truth is there are moments when that diversity is a blessing and time when it is a challenge...because it can bring out our differences in opinions and how we see the world.  Anne Lamont is fond of saying, 'Of course we think our opinion is the RIGHT opinion...otherwise  we'd get a NEW opinion'.  How true.

Yet, the value of diversity is that we don't see as clearly as we think we do.  Everyone's vision is skewed and blurred.  No one has all the answers...remember that come November with an election!  The Samaritans and some Jewish folks differed on who you should marry and where you should worship. The same can be said today.  Those issues remain in our world today.  Yet, Jesus was more interested in the how, then the where or the when or the other logistics.  Worship can happen anywhere.  Yet, worship also needs to lean into and strive to embrace the beautiful diversity of thought. 

Today there are people who want more Bach in worship and people who have heard all the Bach they need in their life time.  There are people who want a hymnal in hand and those who want a screen on the wall.  There are people who want the comfort of tradition and those who want to shake it up every week.  Which is right?  Yes...all the above and more than we can fathom or understand.  

What is meaningful worship to you?  And how can you be open, really open your heart, to another's perspective?  I think if these questions were asked and engaged in faithful ways in our churches today, there would be more than a trace of God's grace found within our conversations.

May it be so for where you worship and where I worship.

Blessings ~

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 ...