Precious Moments

Matt 26: 1-13
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples,‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, ‘Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.’

Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,* a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, ‘Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.’ But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’

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My mother grew up on Foster street, not 6 or 7 houses down from where Erik and I now live.   I have the vague child’s memories of playing in the grass out behind this house that to which now, I have no connection, …yet intimate awareness of where the good rocks to hide behind and where the good flowers would grow, should the not-so-new owners ever need that information.

Like a good Irish Catholic family, conversation of death, and how close it was, was part of their conversations growing up, as it was for me, from my mother.  My Nana- who died when I was on the eve of two years old– used to tell my mother in her thick Irish brogue, “put yer name on the bottom of whatever you want now, because you’ll all be fighting over it when I’m dead.”  As the story was told to me– so many times, you see, because we’re a story telling family– she did put her name under this irish china bottle my mother *knew* that her mother would lift up and dust under often.
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Now it’s in our china cabinet.  No dusting required.

When she was gone, we’d go over there to visit Grandpa, after church every Sunday for brunch. I was young.  A thick irish fry, he’d pull together with my uncle Kevin and my dad– eggs and irish sausage, black pudding, and toast with sugar on top, my sisters and I still dressed in our Sunday outfits and kicking our legs under the table.  He was so gentle and loving with us.  He, too, knew that life wasn’t forever.  Signing the songs of old Ireland and playing with us in the dirt…

Whenever I walk by that house with my dog Thomas now, I remember the gardens he poured so much into.  Out front and in the back, perennials and annuals, weeded and kept up with care and compassion.  His favorite was the bleeding hearts of Jesus that came back year after year.  You know- he never let my sisters and I leave that house without sending us home with a bouquet when there were flowers to be had.

He picked the very best blooms he had, cut them out and wrapped them in a wet paper towel and tin foil for his granddaughters, and sent them home with us.  His gardens always looked a little sparse after we left- there were four of us.  Of course, we didn’t get it at the time– we were so delighted and felt so special that we got a bouquet of flowers!… but as we grew older, and now long after his death I think about how much love was in those flowers.  It wasn’t about what the neighbors would think of his gardens, or how hard he worked to have them to that state… cutting them and carefully arranging them for his granddaughters was ritual and right.

I was so tiny– maybe I don’t remember this well, now– but maybe my parents objected.  Or my uncle.  “Dad, those are the best you’ve got! Choose one of the ones going already.  They’ll just wilt at the girls’ house, too.”

And maybe he answered something like, “I won’t always be here to give them flowers.”  And that was the end of that.

Grandparents get it.  Having seen their own kids grow up, think of everything they might have done differently, or where they accidentally got it right in parenting… and now this new phase of unabashed spoiling and spilling of love just everywhere… I think grandparents understand the closeness of the end of life, and the precious moments that they get with little ones who grow too quickly.  I imagine that sometimes there’s a want to tell the young parents: your worries will always be with you– but you won’t always have me–  just a few more minutes.  Just a bit longer.  Bring out the old china– yes, the same that you were never allowed to touch when you were younger, and we’ll have a tea party for dolls.  Of course it’s expensive, collectible.   But we need these memories and this experience!  If it breaks, it’s only glass.  These moments are precious.

So Jesus is at the house of Simon the leper with his disciples.  His end is so close, and he knows it.  He’ll be labeled a criminal of the government and to be given a terrible end.  And yet… when a woman takes the most costly ointment to him, and breaks it open upon his head… these moments are precious.  He sinks into it, despite and over the protest of his disciples, and lets her anoint him with the strong smelling oil. When reading it through, I heard the phrase with an Irish accent, actually:  “You’ll always have the poor with ye. Butcha won’t always have me.  I’ll be dead soon, you know.”  And the disciples, still not understanding what the woman and the Christ know–that these moments are precious– maybe roll their eyes and hurry on the way, to the next meal, where there was to be bread and wine. But Jesus is a little more at peace about his life, and his death.  A little more prepared.

We echo some of that preparedness during Lent.  We re-orient our lives, and the time we have left, toward God and toward wholeness.  Ash Wednesday itself, and the beginning of Lent, is designed to leave us remembering that we are dust and to dust we will eventually return.  We, ourselves, are marked, marred… and then made new once again through One who crosses into death and swings around again to life everlasting.  We reach toward healing.  We realize then, that our moments are precious.  That our wealth, our time, what it is that we have left is yes, to give to the poor, ….and also to give to those whom we love in community, because we’ll be dead soon, too, you know.

We are but human. When our stories line up with our Jesus’s own… when we see our families grow, and when we realize the reality of our limited existence, we see where there is love in abundance to be spent.  We see what really matters– not the wealth, not the perfume, not the would-have-could-have-should-haves… but these very precious moments we have.  And when we, like the woman with the perfume, lavish those we love in the here and now, we live fully in these moments.  It won’t all be here, like this, forever.  And that’s the beauty of it… it means so much more when we know it’s fleeting.

It’s not as though there is nothing to which we look forward, though.  In every moment the dream of the future reaches in and touches the present with a sparkle of hope.  In my family, I’m watching my parents prepare to be grandparents for the first time.  My sister is three months away from a tiny baby, who has no idea how spoiled he’s going to be.  My dad keeps tearing up and and saying over and over, “I’m going to be a grandpa!” and my mother, in the proper Irish fashion, is caught between loving on my sister Becky hard and remembering her own parents and how precious the moments we have together are, while we’re all still here to enjoy them.

In those precious moments before his death, Jesus is with those whom he loves.  He’s treasuring the time and effort spent on his behalf.  He’s sinking in the reality of what is and what will be, and he’s thinking of how he can make them understand.  Whenever the good news of our reality of limited existence is shared in the world, we are blessed because life and this love is circular, and not linear. Even after our lives in this world end, we know something is to follow.  We know that Christ has prepared the way.  We remember what was, and we know what is to be.  And we continue to walk alongside Jesus on this Lenten journey towards the next meal we’ll share together, and all that is to follow.  But in the meantime, we lean into these precious moments, where the love that will never end, even after all the flowers have wilted and died, flows forth.

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In Joy and in Sorrow

Isaiah 40:1-11   “…in joy and in sorrow…”    Rev. Chris Davies– December 15th, 2013.

 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”  See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.  He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

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Oh, God, today.  There are so many tears… in this sanctuary, in others all across the world.  This has been a strange and sad week for a lot of people, as we’ve re-lived the experience through the one-year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook. It feels like the tension is almost palpable in CT, everywhere I go… It’s also particularly strange because the shootings were a day before Erik and I got married.  Today is our one year anniversary.

I remember praying the day before, at the rehearsal dinner, after a hurried and chaotic run through.  We called everyone to a circle to pray over the food, and I just… started to cry.   “God, be with them all… be with us.  And God, I know you are big enough to be so present for all of this: the grief and devastation and shock and loss for the children, and the celebration and pure joy that I have to finally marry this wonderful human who helps me be ME, fully…”  Through tears, we all prayed, blessing the food and asking for mercy on us, weary humans in the emotional ruin of a shock so great.

Last year, on this day, I remember being so happy and so devastated all at the same time… Such a strange array of feelings across the board… it felt surreal.  Get the garlands hung in the hall, in the church, and remember the children.  The flowers will arrive at what time? ..and remember the children.  Darling, I love you so much, and today–our wedding day–, we covenant before the God and the world that you are mine and I am yours… and remember the children.

I remember weeping in the morning, while I was getting my hair done, for the babies and their families that would not have Christmas together, this year, or any year thereafter.  I remember holding tight to my brand new spouse, driving from the ceremony to the reception and feeling so happy and grateful, and yet painfully aware and sore for those families who probably are *still* in shock.  I remember happiness that overflowed so much it was contagious and hugs that lasted just long enough for the shadow of what was to retreat.  I remember people speaking of hope in those days of shock.

I remember our honeymoon, where the whole world grieved with CT, with those families, at their loss, at the whole world’s loss…  The tension of being half a world away, and people still having a moment of silence when they heard from where we had come.

It’s strange: I almost feel it more, at the anniversary. The two will always be connected for me, and each hold so many tears for two very different reasons.  The tears that overflow, though, and all that comes with each experience, is so deeply known by God almighty– elation, and mourning.

The scripture lesson we’ve just heard was written for people mourning, wondering, and whispering, “where is God?”  The writer assures us all of comfort through the ages.  We, as Christians in this time and place, must look at it through a few different lenses… (and you all know how I feel about glasses…).   With the original lens of context, and one that has a deeply valid meaning for Jews today, the writer of this portion of Isaiah writes to a people who have been exiled from their homeland, and wonder, “why, God?  Why did you destroy our temple and send us away to exile, to Babylon?” and God is written to say, “my lambs, come home,  the horror is over now.  You’ll be told: Comfort, comfort…. this was too much: double what you deserved.”  And the people will sniffle and nod and look homeward.

And with another, added lens of context years later, those Christmas stories echo through this piece so intimately, as Handel’s Messiah gives tune to the scripture and points so closely to He Whom We as Christians have Awaited, He Who Gives us hope, He Who comes wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a Manger… the tiny baby who will remind us all that death is not the end.  That life and love continue on so much further than a mother or father’s love for a child, or the wedded bliss cemented with a covenant and a kiss.  The babe who comes to this world surrounds us and gives us comfort when we need it most, today.  And more, the Lord your God will scoop his people up like a shepherd, carrying them close to the heart.  And we, the people, will sniffle, and nod, and look homeward.

The God we know is a good shepherd.  The God we know is a surrounding presence of love and light, beside us in our struggles and deepest grief’s.  The God we know is there, uplifting our celebrations at these moments of extreme joy and bliss.  The God we know is an expert at these tensions and in between places, because The God we know is a comfort in the presence of the vilest evil… for both those deeply wounded and lost, and also reaching in compassion towards those who are on the other side of the gun.  The God we know is big enough to do all of that, all of the time, for all of the people.

Because we speak together of a time where those weapons will be beat into plowshares, where we, with the God we know, work towards a more just world: where children are safe in homes and schools and in the plains and valleys.  Where people can marry whomever they fall deeply in love without fear of discrimination or persecution.  Where the color of one’s skin does not determine the way in which society and systems react and respond to their presence.  Where there are people who do NOT have to wonder from where their food comes, or where their children will sleep.  Where justice and righteousness flow forth like streams.

And here’s the Good News: The God we know is big enough to hold that vision, too, and gently turn, turn, turn ourselves towards it, each and every moment of each and every day.  God is big enough, my brothers and sisters in Christ, for your hurt, your joy, your struggle, your excitement, your pain, your creativity, your anger, your confidence, your embarrassment, your contentment, your grief, and your elation.   Just as Erik and I vowed, last year on this day, in the presence of God and our community that we’d love and stand beside each other in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow…. God has vowed the same to us, humans of God’s creation, all throughout the ages.  In joy and in sorrow, as long as we all shall live, and even beyond.  Through all of that wilderness: there is God!  Tenderly, so tenderly, speaking, Comfort, comfort ye my people.

Advent of Hope

Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever.  Now consider, we are all your people.

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The events of this past week have weighed so, so heavy on my mind.  So I want you to listen while I talk to God.

A Pastor’s Prayer for All the People

O, God… that you would make a miracle for these times.  Tear open the heavens and come down to earth… let the very mountains move in anticipation for that moment!  Where are you, now, God?  This year feels colder.  Darker.  So light a fire, God– within us and all people– make your name known.  For people are behaving poorly.  Enemies of your peace, even, worshipping what they perceive to be bigger than you.  But we know, God, that nothing is bigger than you… right?

Not hard-hearted people, not those too comfortable to care, not the system in desperate need of change.  If only you could make this easy.  Show up, God… come down from the heavens and draw us all together in your name!  Then all people would quake at your presence.

God…. that you could make a miracle for these times.  The weight of telling your story again and again, holding hope out again and again, is heavy.  If you could just– Put a little spark in the hearts of your people… make a miracle to inspire us again into your call for mission and ministry, and love of all people… Send us marching forth with your love on our lips, because then, God, we’d have seen it working… to stand up for the least of these, modeling compassion and empathy.

There was a time, God, where you came to earth again and again.  You came embodied in Christ himself, and called a broken system to change.  Remember that? You came down to earth, looked around at all your children fighting and burning and killing each other in your name and made something change.  So bring your great peace to us– you can make miracles, can’t you?

You came to earth in Jesus.  You told us through him to reach out towards those who have been wounded.  You exhaulted the poor, the downtrodden, the low of heart… Blessed are they.  You reached into the crowd and stood between the lawmakers and a woman to be stoned.  You swallowed even your own veiled assumption of the “other” to help the daughter of one who demanded notice– even the dogs get scraps!  You saw a man all others ignored calling demons out of him and down over the cliff.  You made a lifetime of standing beside those who are hurting and oppressed every. single. day.  You took the status quo of the system and turned it upside down.

God, you, in Jesus Christ our Lord, you held your hand out in healing.  For those who are broken, distraught… you offered your hope.  Through Jesus, you presented an image of the kingdom unreachable: a place in the not so distant future where ALL are fed, ALL are clothed, ALL have a place called home, ALL have a justice that is universal, and ALL are loved and beloved.  You constantly subverted sharp social boundaries, offering food and fellowship to the marginalized, the outcasts, those tormented by the domination system of the day.  In Jesus, you spoke actively and often of how ALL can reach towards you and feel your hope.

So where are you now, God?  In these moments of unrest, where are you?

In the darkness of the night, where is God?  When a mother mourns a son lost for NO GOOD REASON, where is God?  When peace is far and hard to imagine, where is God?  Where the fires burn on businesses unrelated, where is God?  When a 12 year old child is shot carrying for a toy gun, where is God?  When frustrations of the good cop get caught up in the assumption of them all twisted, where is God?  When words that have good intentions still ring high awareness to the pain of so many, where is God?

Because it sure feels like it’s getting darker.  The lights are flickering down, the eventide rises, and the glow of Buckland and Evergreen walk calls to us, seductively.  Ignore the tension.  Ignore the pain.
It’s getting darker.  There are things in the night that go “bump” and God, we are afraid.  We don’t know how to respond or react, from the comfort of our pews in South Windsor, to statements of unrest in the Middle East.  I don’t know enough of what’s happening, we whisper, I can’t make an opinion. 

It’s getting darker.  We distance ourselves from justice reigning down; we paralyze ourselves with fear of unrest and revolution, thinking, that’s so far away.  It won’t affect me or my family…. There is a good sale, down the street, let’s go there.

The darkness is uncomfortable.  The thought makes us shift in our seats, wondering, when will it end?  When can we go back to what we remember as peaceful… sheltered…  When can this all fade away and we can put our heads to rest with peace?

God, because it feels like you weren’t here, we’ve transgressed.  We’ve gotten slow and lethargic.  We raise our voices most often at sales people, not at injustice.  It takes a personal affront for us to remember that we are all your children, beloved in your sight.

God, you are in charge here.  Not us.  You have seen how we all have fallen short, and you have seen how our deeds of hiding behind our privilege, our concerns, our personal problems has blinded us to the need of the world.  We are small, God, and you are big.  We will blow away like dust in the wind, and you will remain.

So we implore you, oh God– we call on your name.  There are days and weeks and months and decades where injustice has reigned.  That you could help us make a miracle for these times.  Do not be exceedingly angry.  We implore you to remember, even in our darkest nights, that we are ALL your people.

We are searching, perilously, for hope in these times.  We are calling on you to come into this world once again, calling on the advent of your hope, for something to change.  We are reaching toward you in quiet desperation, in awareness of our own brokenness, and with hearts and hands ready to move closer to you.  We are ALL your people, God, and we are ready to start acting like it.

We are ready to open our hearts to the hope that is so close to entering the world– to feel the future of possibility, where freedom is a very real hope for all of your people, regardless of wealth, or class, or race, or gender, or whom we call love.  We see the hope in the distance, just on the horizon, where justice is love enacted, where the hope of the world is so very near– contained in the form of an infant, born in a manger.  We see hope, God, and towards that hope we move, arms outstretched, hearts opened, minds ready for your own truth to pour in, sending us the hope of the ages.

God, in the midst of all this world, we know, the good news today is here, too.  We know that when we are kind, when we are loving, when we are gentle…. you hold YOUR hope for all the world.  When we reach toward the “other” with an open mind and a loving spirit, we reach towards you.   When we do this, we embody the grace and the hope and the love for ALL of us in this world.  We see the possibility for future hope, and prepare the way for hope embodied in a small baby, on his way to this world this very advent.  We keep moving towards hope, and we keep moving towards you.

Amen.

Amen.

The Calm in the Storm

Jonah 1:15-2:9 “The Calm in the Storm”
 
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I wonder if Jonah was an anxious human.  I wonder if when the word of God spoke to the prophet from beyond his barriers, Jonah seized up in panic attacks and in terror.  Did he long to hear the “fear not!” that so often preludes the voice of God? Did his heart clench in his chest and his hands begin to shake?
 
Did he run away with the thought that “when I get further down from God, it will be better than this?”  Did each step further away provide a slight release of the pressure of anxiety of God’s call to go up to Ninevah?   When he saw the ship in the distance, was there an ah-ha! moment of “Oh Thank God–! A Way Out!”  Maybe he thought he could move across countries away from his problems and his mental health and the plan that God has for him. 
 
When he got on the boat, did the sailors wonder, Who is this foreigner?  Did they clutch their dice within their pockets, or rub the deck in the certain pattern that their superstitions have demanded for decades as he stepped on board and they were outward bound?  And when God threw the storm at the ship, did they glance sideways at each other, and at the newcomer, holding his legs up against his chest, hiding behind the barrels in the corner?  As the storm grew worse, I wonder if their own panic grew, too.  As they battened down the hatches and took turns at the helm, was it a hard decision to draw straws to see who is the cause of all this panic?
 
I wonder if Jonah’s sleep in the storm was his coping mechanism for the internal storm that raged in his anxiety.  Did he say to him self, “if I sleep, then this will all go away.”  Did he vision a hope for calm?  Was there a tiny release of pressure in his dreams, a harbor of refuge from the storm?  I wonder if avoiding the conflict of what might happen in Ninevah, pretending that there is no conflict at all, was even possible for him.  
 
When the sailors pulled out the lots to find the source, did Jonah’s heart begin to race?  Did his face turn red in shame, and his hands begin to shake again?  Did the anxiety overwhelm him, rendering him incapable of movement?  And when the short straw landed in front of him, and they demanded answers of him for why, did his vision glaze over and return him to the truth of who he was, causing him to state his identity and beliefs?  When he said, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and dry land” did the sailors gasp with superstition and fear when they realized that Jonah was running away?
 
And as the waves crashed on the deck and the wind blew the tiny boat around in the huge sea, as the storm raged with anger unabated, did a calm come over Jonah as he knew what they had to do?  Did he see their attempts to row back in to shore with quiet awareness that it would do no good?  And when the men lifted him and tossed him down, was his anxiety numbed in anticipation of the coming end?
 
Was the fall from the boat and into the water more of an easy float down?  And was there a comfort in the moments where Jonah laid on his back, looking skyward into the rain and the wind, the water surrounding him and holding him up, fully?  While the ship sailed away and he was alone, did he hum quietly to himself, hymns he’s know for years that have eased his anxiety…? 
And as the fish swam beneath him, water currents foreshadowing his fate, did Jonah close his eyes?  As the waters closed over him and the deep surrounded him in the heart of the seas, did he hold himself close?
 
I wonder if he thought of comforting things, thinking back about his life, his family, his home, his friends….  I wonder if, as the mouth of the fish swallowed him up, he offered up his complete submission to his anxieties and to his God.  I wonder if from that place of odd calm, he found himself in the belly of the fish, surrounded by flesh and warm, away from the the storm of life, away from the coming conflicts and the task that lies in front of him– I wonder if in that place he was able to clearly see past his own mental blocks and the truth before him.
 
Maybe as the pulse of the being that carried him along gave a rhythm to his prayer, he offered up his supplication, his submission, his sure awareness that his secret circumvention of God’s task must now end.  I wonder if from that emotional space of calm, in the belly of the fish, there is where Jonah prayed, offering his resignation to his duty, his surrender to the will of the Lord your God.  From where did the quiet prayer come, when Jonah whispered from the fish, “As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple….” 
 
and with what power of resolve and understanding did he finally assert, “…But I, with the voice of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you; …what I have vowed, I will pay.” ?  And when the fish surged towards shore, what relief was there, as Jonah came up for air, to Ninevah, to God?
 
More than Jonah’s storm, I wonder if, in another storm, in another time, that calm was still present.  Maybe in another storm, in another time, the disciples wondered if they had angered God in some way, while another man slept on.  I wonder if their anxiety ate away at them.  I wonder if when they reached out, it was from their panic they called out “Don’t you CARE!?”  
 
I wonder, too, if the calm that surpasses all understanding held them afloat, in that moment, when God embodied awoke, and looked upon them, and called to the storm, Peace.  Be Still.  And when they left that boat, I wonder if their direction was just a little clearer, their path a little more defined, and their faith a little stronger. 
 
What will happen when the winds of life pick up?  The ship we sail starts to shake?  What will happen when the way we have been going for so long seems to no longer work as we want it to?  What happens when our anxiety speaks louder than the voice of God within us?  How does God reach out in all of these moments to call us home, bring us calm, and bring us up once again?  
 
I don’t know.  But perhaps that answer is somewhere within the words, “Peace.  Be Still.”

Eulogy for Carolyn Davies (1937-2014)

This is the eulogy that my dad, Steven Davies, wrote for his mom, my Grandma, Carolyn.

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My mother was crazy.  I do not say this as insult or with any judgement and ask you not to take offense on her behalf.  I say this to put into context what comes later that you may see it as I have come to see it for all of its sparkling brilliance.  My mother was crazy.  Her world was not as ours.

In her world, Angels hovered just out of sight — smiling, and demons lurked behind every corner — plotting.  In her world, the vast battle of good and evil was being fought on the most basic level, about the most trivial things but, with our help, good can always win.  In her world, crystals were a strong defense against the dark powers, flower essence can change your day, and the right vitamins could heal any sickness.  In her world, the keys to a clean house, losing weight, financial solvency, or just keeping track of your stuff were in a dozen or so unread books sitting in a pile somewhere in her house.  In her world, catalogs were a window into a safer, funner, more comfortable, or convenient life.  In her world, there were never enough stationary supplies, flash lights, or umbrellas.

She made no secret of the abusive horror of her upbringing and perhaps that broke her, making our reality just not available to her.  What it also did, however, was to create a magnificence that I am still coming to understand.

She was brilliant at perhaps the one thing that ever really matters.  She was a genius at Love.  I want to teach you what she taught me about love.  Love is patient, kind, gentle, selfless, generous, warm, bottomless, respectful, ferocious, and unyielding.  She loved without reservation or hesitation.  Her love obligated no one but herself.  My mother loved with her whole being.  This is not a love the ignores fault or denies failing.  She saw right through it, to the victory she was absolutely sure that was waiting for you on the other side of this moment of weakness and suffering.  She was brilliant at knowing, really knowing and believing, that you are doing your best and knowing you can do better.    She loved her children, her grandchildren, her clients, her friends, and her care takers.  She loved her husband – then her ex-husband, and loved his wife for loving him better than she could.  Her love wasn’t about her, and it wasn’t about us.  It was who she was.  I think she filled up the cracks of her brokenness with God’s love, then took every opportunity to flex herself and let that love shine.

I have continued to see her in her decline as she slowly lost everything.  She forgot her life, she forgot her clients, her friends, her homes.  She slowly forgot her children, and her grandchildren.  Then she forgot me.  Sometimes she saw me as her father, or her husband, and sometimes, I was her son.  She never forgot to be kind to the people around her.  She never forgot that no matter how much pain she was in, or how scared she was, these people were people who needed love and kindness just like she did.  But even when she forgot everything, even when the world of her craziness overwhelmed her and she did not know who to trust, she trusted what I have trusted.  She trusted in her love and she never forgot that she loved me.   She never forgot the only thing ever worth remembering.  Love.

“Robin Hope”

preached Aug 17th, 2014

Mark 5:1-20

They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when [Jesus] had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’

For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us into the swine; let us enter them.’ So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.

 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it.Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

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Oh, God, I wish it were that easy.  I wish that a heartfelt prayer and faith would just will away the demons of mental illness and addiction all the things that really plague us and those we love.  Obviously in the the scriptural case the illness of the Gerasene man was incapacitating, outwardly shown by his inability to clothe himself or find a place to live other than the graveyard. Obviously his community tried to restrain him, oust him, and prevent him from acting upon himself and his illness.  They couldn’t do anything more.  They aren’t Jesus. 

For those hurting, today, though… it isn’t always so obvious.  It rarely is.  Robin Williams’ death has brought up awareness, trauma, and grief for so many, and shows how pain isn’t always immediately recognizable.  Like Robin, most people living with mental illness have no outward signs.  Yet one in four adults is living with some sort of mental illness. 1

  Depression and mental illness can be like an invisible weight between one and the world, separating self from emotion, thought, feeling… entering into a nothingness.  It doesn’t matter what riches one has, or doesn’t have… what one is capable of or where one lives… it can be there, too.  Further, the added weight of the stigma around getting help or going to therapy or reaching out has been heavy handed, though I believe it’s gradually lifting. 

For those of us with the privilege of mental wellness, it doesn’t make sense.  We don’t get it.  We simply can’t.  We’re so used to a quick-fix, so the scripture’s “send it into the pigs” method seems so… attractive.  But still today, we aren’t Jesus.  Other than to be there, be present, and with love gently help those hurting to the people trained to help, it seems we can’t do much else.  For those who are people of action, it’s so frustrating to not have an immediate plan and response.

God, I wish depression wasn’t a thing that daily weighs down some, and some I love, incapacitating them and driving them closer and closer to…. what?  The cliff?  It’s overwhelming.  And terrifying.  And for some, the cliff is so very, very close.

The Comic book the Watchmen tells this supposed “joke:”   Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says “But Doctor… I am Pagliacci.”  2-Watchmen

Except the joke’s not funny.  When Robin Williams died, it felt for a moment that Hope was gone.  All week, I’ve found myself almost randomly letting tears flow over small things, because it feels so deeply affective, when I’m brave enough to take my head out of the sand and see what’s going on all across the world.  Human lives taken through depression and mental illness and senseless violence.  Robin felt not so far from us, having kept us company for decades in film, bringing us to laughter and tears.  For others, the reality of depression is so very close.

I have no idea what God is doing in these moments of pain and panic, depression and emptiness.  Not a clue.  I do have faith that God is there.  Further I have faith that this is not the first time that Christ has seen this kind of stuff, or even experienced it in the dark night himself, calling out his own emptiness, loneliness, and despair unto God.   I confess, there have been moments this past week where I’ve reached out to God for help. 

I am privileged, though, to feel hope.  To know the certainty that it will get better.  I am privileged to know that these moments of pain and grief will pass.

And for some, this is not the case.  For some, hope is this distant, elusive, thing that people talk at them about… it’s flown the coop of Pandora’s box out into the wind, leaving behind….. emptiness.  My hope is that Robin’s death continues his legacy and inspires those who are hurting deeply to reach out for help, for support, for treatment.  To continue the journey to wellness, the process to their own wholeness. 

Those who give care and professional help to people living with overwhelming depression speak of “hope in escrow….”  Even though hope seems lost or evasive, it is our job to hold it in care for the wounded, until they are ready to see hope themselves again.  Tenderly, so tenderly, hold the hope close to our own hearts for those we love.  We can’t send it all away, or perform miracles.  We can’t take on and thus will away the pain of another.  We can offer to hold their hope, and, too, offer that to the One Who Holds Hope for Us All, for when we are ready to see it ourselves.

For me, I know faith is involved, here, too.  Where I can’t see the hope, I know that God has my hope in escrow.  I know that Christ, knowing the depths of despair himself, still holds hope for the human race, for us, for our future.  There’s the Good News, isn’t it?  That even here, with all our confusion, our apathy, our bitterness, our rage, pain, our despair, even with our depression and our mental illness, with all we have and all we are; all this we offer in prayer to One who Knows already.  The poet Elizabeth Cunningham reveals Truth:

(Praying the heart by Elizabeth Cunningham)

You can only pray what’s in your heart.

So if your heart is being ripped from your chest

 

pray the tearing

if your heart is full of bitterness

 

pray it to the last dreg

 

if your heart is a river gone wild

pray the torrent

 

or a lava flow scorching the mountain

pray the fire

 

pray the scream in your heart

the fanning bellows

 

pray the rage,

the murder and

the mourning

 

pray your heart into the great quiet hands that can hold it

like the small bird it is.        3

 

 

This is what we have.  The emotions on heart of the events of the world and of our community and of our lives…. and this is what we offer to God to hold for us.   Even where it seems that depression is robbing hope, God is here.  We pray that even in the midst of…. all this…. even when it feels empty and lonely and overwhelming, even when it seems as though hope himself is killed off, Christ reaches out his wounded hands in so much love and compassion, holding the most tender thing of all: hope.

 

 

 

1 http://www.nami.org/factsheets/mentalillness_factsheet.pdf

2 http://comicbook.com/blog/2014/08/12/watchmen-joke-goes-viral-after-robin-williams-death/

3 Cunningham, Elizabeth.  Small Bird.  Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 1999.

“Speak”

preached on August 10th, 2014

 

Speak.

Exodus 4:10-17

 But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.”   But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.”   

Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad.  You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do.  He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him.  Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.”

speak

I spent the last week with 7 high school students from all over New Hampshire and Maine.  We went between the two camps of the United Church of Christ up north: Pilgrim Lodge in Maine, and Horton Center in New Hampshire.  At one point, the other group leader and I sat in a circle and invited them to share their experiences of faith and where they are on their faith journey up until this point.

Despite the team building, the emotional closeness, and the intentional community that we’d spent time creating, they were so hesitant to share!  Even with two PK’s (Pastor’s Kids) in the group of only 7, they were fearful that their experiences of God and the world and religion would be judged.  While they all had grown up in UCC churches, they still struggled HEAVILY with their own internalized reaction to what the greater Christian Picture presented in our culture at large dictates.

As much as we are so intentional about trying to articulate to our youth about what our faith is about, we don’t… we can’t… speak it enough.  For 5 of the 7, they weren’t sure about God because they liked Science a whole lot.  They were hesitant about talking about their faith because it was new for them– They weren’t sure about religion because they didn’t have a safe place to talk about it, anywhere.  Articulating God-stuff was so overwhelming and confusing that they didn’t want to speak at all.  Even in a church setting, there were echoes of they “oh, politics and religion, these are the things we don’t talk about around the table because: conflict.” 

The language just wasn’t present for them in a way that was accessible to describe the feelings.  The way in which their lives had gone, the language that they had been working with their entire lives, wasn’t adequate to describe the faith that they wanted, or experienced.  They were afraid to speak, and speak “wrong.”  Their experience is not unique for Christian teenagers.

Despite the fact that many of them have had experiences of feeling connected to God, each other, and their world, and especially at camp, they are hesitant to speak.  They have had proverbial Mountain Top experiences to which they could point: places in the wilderness, perhaps atop the mountain, where they with their peers experienced the wholeness of creation as fully as they were able.  Even this past week, on Wednesday when we hiked up to the top of Pine Mountain at Horton Center, we watched the sun set over the Mountains in the distance, Mt. Washington and the Presidentials to our left and the trail back down to camp site on our right… the view was breathtaking, and golden, the sun blazing through the trees and lighting up everything as though it were on fire.

Then, as we took off our shoes on this sacred ground, and rolled out our sleeping bags on the rock cliff, the holiness of the moment poured forth, washing the youth and counselors with spirit.  The language wasn’t really there… they couldn’t speak… and yet still they knew they were in the presence of Holy.

It’s interesting– Language seems to slow us down sometimes between ourselves and God. What do we do when words overwhelm us?  After his illumination by the bush afire, and in conversation with God, Moses flat out begged not to be used by God, holding up his stutter and lack of language as a deterrent to speaking his experience of God.

But God works in crazy ways and God still found a way.  Using Moses’s brother Aaron, the messages still got to the people Israel, calling them to see God’s path before them.  The words themselves don’t seem to matter much– Aaron helps with Moses’ eloquence.  Like Moses, like the youth at camp this past week, words can slow us down, sometimes, it seems.

In participating in worship with Rabbinical Students at Hebrew College, I’ve always envied the art of prayer in wordless melody…. Niggun.  To sing praise and ask for help from and give thanks to the divine for all of the things and all of the people and all of the ways.  Sometimes in a joyous outburst of melody, …..sometimes a wordless lament, ….the music takes over and offers prayer instead of the words.  There is a place to speak.

We all can stumble in articulation of God or prayer.  The poet Mary Oliver writes:

“PRAYING

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.”                                               

The disciples, too, wondered how to speak of God.  When they implored Jesus what words to use, he imparted upon them the Lord’s Prayer… one we know so well that there are times when the words themselves cease to make meaning and the flow of the rhythm that we know so well takes over and allows a space for God to sneak in through the experience.  It becomes so much a part of who we are that even when memory begins to slip away, the words of the prayer stay with us.  Or even for those who have not been to church in decades or since their childhood, the words of the prayer allow the space to speak.

God empowers us to speak, even when we think we don’t have words.  Last week, as the days went on, the youth I was with eventually felt safe enough to voice their doubts, their fears, their woundedness with religion, and also safe enough to open their hearts to the experience that the week at camp would bring, in a new way.  Hearing the language articulated around them, the words that brought faith into action, people modeling and enacting a progressive theology that makes sense to teenagers where they are in the world now, subsequently gave them permission to speak their own truth.

God finds a new way to allow us to speak.  Whether through others like Aaron, through wordless tunes enabling our feelings to pour forth, through poetry, prayers we already know so deeply and intimately, God can help our voices come through.  And sometimes,  even those who think they don’t have the words or the language can step up, empowered, and lead others in incredible ways, breaking spirit open and pouring forth the words.

Just as my hope and prayer for these youth was that they found a way to articulate what God and camp and community meant for them, I pray the same for us all.  I pray that God grants us the words, helps us to speak the truth, empowers us to tell of the way in which God has transformed our lives every day: from the experience of the mountain top and the burning bush to the every day routine of being a human in the world.  God finds a way to allow us to speak.

 

 

Oliver, Mary. Thirst. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.

“Searching for Zion”

Preached on Sunday July 27th by Rev. Chris Davies

Psalm 137

1 By the rivers of Babylon—
   there we sat down and there we wept
   when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows* there
   we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
   asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
   ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’


4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
   in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
   let my right hand wither!
6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
   if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
   above my highest joy.


7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
   the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down!
   Down to its foundations!’
8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator!*
   Happy shall they be who pay you back
   what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
   and dash them against the rock!

_______View_of_a_large_house,_white_picket_fence_in_foreground,_from_Robert_N._Dennis_collection_of_stereoscopic_views

Oh I remember Zion.  I remember the days where it felt right, I was cared for, we had everything we needed, and the children played gleefully in the neighborhood.  It was different back then, people were nicer.  We got together after work for cocktails with the neighbors while the kids took care of themselves out back.  We weren’t struggling then, like we are now; trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage on a fixed income and keep up with this house that just feels too big, now that the kids have moved out.  They never call anymore, either.  In my day, we called our parents.  I remember Zion.

I remember Zion.  Before we knew that he was sick.  We had no idea how good it was.  Sure things were a little tight, and I thought my worries were huge, but that was the life.  The disease didn’t hang over every moment of our lives, threatening to take it all in an instant… We weren’t strapped to a hospitals’ schedule and constantly waiting for the next test and result and treatment option.  We could go places and do things… we could lay together and laugh without the dark cloud.  It was before the Moment that Changed Everything.  Before.  I can’t believe we are here.  I remember Zion.

My, My… I remember Zion.  We should have never moved to this city.  Where we lived before, the house was just right, I knew where everything was, and I had friends.  People asked about how I was doing.  And they knew my family.  Here it’s just so lonely and cold.  I can walk down the street and no one says “hello.”  I have to start all over again.  I remember Zion.

I remember Zion.  My darling, my dear one, my sweet love… when she was here with me… we were perfect together.  We made a house and a home and she kept it up… I got home from work and she’d have dinner there, ready… she cared for me so deeply: I never had to worry about doing my own laundry or cleaning up the house, it was perfect.  Sure, there were fights… Sure, there were days where we didn’t speak…. but I didn’t know what I had.  And then she left me.  I remember Zion.

I remember Zion.  The willows above the river, swaying in the wind, the land that God calls ours and the Temple was so beautiful, so full.  Families came in from all over and dressed up and The Lord Our God was happy.  We never had to search for people to help, they just did.  And we lacked for nothing.  We sang hymns together, praising God with the lute and the harp and the lyre, and the children were filling the sanctuary with laughter and praise.  God, I remember Zion, and if I forget, cut my hand off!  That was the time. That was the place.  But now, we’ve been pushed out, the Temple is destroyed, and we are captors.  I remember Zion.

I remember Zion.  I remember Zion.  I remember Zion.

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?  When all seems lost and so long ago, how can we sing Praise to God?  It seems like God is not here.  Some call out in pain and in anger.  The near-obsessive nostalgia for what the time that felt like Zion is behind us and we are in a different place.  We wonder if God is here in this strange land…

And yet…. the memory of what was for all of us holds us captive.  Anger spills from each wistful memory and from the psalmist.  Anger and hurt– Anger is the energy released after a great hurt.  Anger can come in flashes and can be destructive, leaving us wistful and wishing that we hadn’t said those things, wishing that we could take back the words or the actions that hurt and leaving us spent and slightly ashamed. 

The memory of what was can have us call out in anger and hurt some serious things to God: God why have you done this to me?  God I pray for Those People, They who hurt me, offend me, or are different from me, I pray for our delight in Their Demise.  God I hate this disease, I hate this situation, and maybe even quietly, shamefully, God I hate you.

Incidentally, though, God can take it.  God can take the anger that we call out in prayer, in the pews, screamed into the abyss of our loneliness and pain and dysphoria and hold it in compassion and abundant abundant grace.  God can receive the truly terrible things we might pray– like the ancient psalmist delighting in the death of his enemies’ children– and after we let it all out, after we are deflated and spent and everything’s been said–and then… at that moment,  if we are open to God’s grace… only then can God take all that energy released and change it into something better.  At that moment God takes the vision of Zion– the Zion that as hard as we try, we will never get back to– and allows the hope of what we can be, and who we can be, to shine through.

God who is with us in our pain and despair, who knows the hurt we feel and mourns the memories of what once was with us, God who loves us with no reservations, the Holy One who Holds our Past as sacred a story as we do, and still points gently to the Future of Hope and Possibility that lies before us, saying, “oh my dear Child.  Yes, that vision of Zion is gone, but look where we can go together.  Look how we grow.  Sweet one, together we make a new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth, bigger and better than anything that has come before….” 

Our Creator, our Divine Love, reminds us that together, the hope for reconciliation and joy is so very present.  That though the Zion we remember is gone, we are a resurrection people.  From this cave of hurt and pain and death and darkness peeks a new light…

And a realization that we have not yet reached Zion.  The promised land is not here.  It is just out of reach.  The kingdom that God imagined for us has not yet happened.  It is just over the horizon!  It is ahead… and we must, we must, we MUST get there together.  To get there, we include all voices, we hold hands and look to the future, we hold each other in compassion and hope and justice and love.  We know from where we have come, we remember what we think the land of promise has been, but ahead is the potential for the beloved community with all of our precious uniqueness, supporting and loving and holding each other up.  For this, I will await with wonder all that is yet to be, and continuously say thanks for all that has come before. 

Amen.

God’s Grace Is Sow Reckless

Preached July 20th, 2014, by Rev. Chris S. Davies

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

unnamed

When I was a kid at Silver Lake Conference Center, the camp that many of our youth have spent or are spending weeks at over the summer, I remember hearing this verse a lot. Mostly because it’s an easy one to act out and make cardboard representations of seeds and weeds and scrounge up a ratty robe for the kid designated to play Jesus to stand on a box and haltingly speak the Pa.. rable– Parable–Parable. And the younger kids tend to understand the scripture danced across the stage with enacted birds making mean faces and snatching up seeds…

And partially because it’s one of the easier parables that Jesus speaks, because not only does he tell it, but he also interprets it for us in a way that we then can feel a little clearer about one of the things it might mean. Or perhaps it was a reoccurring scripture for conferences at camp because it’s still so relevant for people today!

Summer seems an apt time to think about the parable of the sower and the seeds: thoughts of growing things and gardening and weeding and such are prominent… especially when so many of us are out and on out knees in the dirt wondering “wait, is this a weed?” or dutifully pulling from around the plants to let their beauty shine forth. Hardly a day goes by around here where I don’t see a dedicated team of people working to make Wapping Church’s gardens fertile soil! Their efforts and work speak a lot about the soil we have outside. But like a parable, the state of the soil we have outside is really not what we are here to think about. We’re here to think about the soil we have right here in this sanctuary.

What kind of soil are you? Christ’s parable invites us to look internally and wonder: where does the word of God speak to me, and how? I imagine that there are times that each of us has been any different kind of soil. I know that I have. Jesus speaks of four different “seeds” and then interprets what each of them mean for us.

1.) Seeds that fall on the path, and then are eaten by the birds. He’s interpreted it to mean when the message of God’s love and grace falls upon the ears of one who is not able to hear it.

2.) Seeds that fall on rocky ground, spring to life, and then die in the sun’s heat speak of those of us who hear the word of God, get really excited and into it for a time, but then quickly burn out and fall away at the mention of trouble or conflict.

3.) Seeds among the thorns that are choked out are those of us who are quickly distracted by the world around: our things, our cars, our houses, our busy, busy, busy lives… and the countless, “oh…. I meant to….”s.

4.) Seeds that fall on fertile soil and produce fruit is where the message sticks home. It’s interesting to me that we still get it in different ways, though– some a hundredfold, in another case sixty, and in another thirty.

Even thinking through each of these different places upon which the seeds are scattered, I can identify times in my life where I’ve been in all of those places. There are times where I want to wallow in how I’ve fallen short… those moments I’m on the path, and birds are swooping overhead. Or when I get super excited about a certain project or aspect of ministry or cause and carry the momentum for a bit, but then… it gets hard. I burn up or out. Or when I put aside something I know I have to do, or place I have to go, because I’m focused on something else; completely distracted…. missing opportunities for God. And finally, in the moments where I’m present, ready, and keeping my own spirit open for what may come…. those are the moments when God’s message of Love and Grace can overwhelm me in beauty.

So what kind of soil are you, today, now? What cultivation are you doing for the soil of your spirit to be open? The parable invites the questioning… the internal reflection.

However, the parable also invites us to think about the kind of God throwing the seeds. There is a reckless abandon with how the seeds of grace and love are thrown. Regardless of where they will land, they are abundantly tossed into the world, some may even argue that the resources are being wasted in the wind, but off they are thrown!

The kind of God that throws these seeds is the kind of God that continuously is there to remind us of the grace and love of the message, regardless of the soil upon which it will land. Oh, you’re having an overwhelming day, and you’re distracted by everything? God speaks words of comfort and grace to you. Oh, you are fixated on your things, your moving up in the world, your next vacation? God speaks words of comfort and grace to you. Oh, you’re totally involved and invested and all about God for this moment and the next, but when hard times hit, you’re removing your faith, your presence, your support for others? God still speaks words of comfort and grace to you. And in the moments where you are ON, and ready, and open and full of love and listening, God is there too, speaking words of comfort and grace to you. Because God’s love is SOW reckless (see what I did there?) God sows seeds of love and grace abundantly on soil that it won’t just won’t take, but there they are, anyway.

The resources that God has, God abundantly gives away. God’s not held back by who’s going to receive it and where it will go from there: God pays attention, but still offers the seeds to those soils willing and waiting, and even those wilted and wanting.

It swings back around to camp. Because those people in leadership positions never know when the words they say, the seeds they scatter in God’s name, will stick. They never know when or where the well timed question, “hey have you ever thought about being a minister for a living?!?” might produce a quirky, energetic, enthusiastic preacher .just. like the one standing before you now. Maybe the same kind of preacher who once held up a cardboard seed and moved across the stage in front of the chaos of camp, while the evening worship story drew to a close and the whole camp shuffled up their little papers to sing about the seeds they were sowing and the soil they are in the world… all receiving the grace of God who knows no bounds, for whom rocks and weeds and birds and all they metaphorically represent are nothing in comparison to the reckless love poured fourth.

(Thanks to Pulpit Fiction Podcast for the seeds to get goin’ on the sermon!)

A Blessing for One Depressed in Summer

For many, summer is a break: light and warmth and vacation and relaxation.  But for some, it highlights how hard it is to be depressed when everyone else seems so light, so free, and so put together.  For those in the latter category:

A Blessing for One Depressed in Summer

May the summer warmth, and the cool breeze offer a presence of understanding for your low place, and not of mockery.  May the calm quiet of the hazy day be not so much oppressive, but full of potential and rest.  May the birds sing with hope for the easy passing of this time in your life. 

May the busyness of vacations and “getting away” and visiting relatives and friends not be a chore, so much as an opportunity for grace to sweep in and the unexpected smile to emerge.  May your family, friends and church community look towards you with compassion, and understanding: just where you are, and allow you the space to be.   May you be strong enough to ask for help when you need it, and courageous enough to say “yes” when it is offered.

May the Dark Night of your Soul be enlightened and supported by the Light of the World, who looks upon you and calls you Beloved.   May the Christ who wailed from the depths of his own depression the verses of Psalm 22 reach toward you with open arms and broken hands.  May the risen Christ walk beside you through the turmoil, holding you close and comforting you dearly, speaking words of the dawn that will rise again in your life: the sun breaking over the tips of the horizon, the hope that is held for you in escrow in wounded hands outstretched. 

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