Category Archives: Uncategorized

This Is Where I Live

For the last few weeks, my senior pastor has been doing a sermon series on the book Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman.  It’s a good sermon series, and I have to say that on most of her points I agree with her.

To boil the whole series down to a single sentence: Fans like Jesus and the things that He stands for but have no skin in the game, or you are a Follower of Jesus who commits to do the things that Jesus would do, no matter what they are, how difficult they are, or how counter-cultural they are.

Please understand that being a follower asks some difficult things of you and might result in you doing things that make you look just a little over-the-top to your friends. Don’t worry…they’ll get over it and if they don’t, those people didn’t really love you anyway. Anyone who loves you ought to know that you are a seriously committed follower of Jesus and that nothing is going to get in the way of that commitment.

Having said that…I really struggled with her last sermon.

I’m pretty sure that everybody struggled with her last sermon, which was based on Matthew 19:16-22, otherwise known as the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler:

16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these;[a] what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money[b] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.  (NRSV)

I think that I have always struggled with the parable of the rich, young ruler because it seems to say that being rich keeps you from being truly faithful.  To me it seems to say that we must give up all of our worldly wealth before we can truly follow Christ, and there are people who actually believe that. They sell everything they own and give the proceeds to the Church and join the ranks of the poor just so that they can live out their faith. I can’t criticize that choice, although it seems a bit extreme to me; I don’t believe that is what Jesus is asking me to do.

I have to admit that I have given up considerable wealth for my God. I used to be a computer programmer, and back in 1997 (when I finally left my job to go to seminary) I was earning more than my husband because of how rare “mainframe” programmers were becoming. If I had stayed in my original career, I would probably be making six figures…easily making over $150,000 a year. That’s a lot of money, and sadly I’ll never earn anything like that as a counselor who gives away a lot of counseling for free…but that’s what God calls me to do.

I say this not to glorify myself (because really…I love my job. I wouldn’t want to go back to computer programming for any reason, ever) but to highlight that I have already set aside a chunk of material wealth for the sake of Jesus…and I still have a really hard time with my pastor’s interpretation of Matthew 19:16-22!

My senior pastor sees this passage as a demand to give up anything and everything that Christ asks us to set aside. I, on the other hand, keep getting hung up on the whole good vs perfect debate in this passage.  “Good vs perfect” is a debate that takes up a huge part of my life…and it is the one place where God constantly reminds me that I cannot be perfect for Him…that I can only submit to His will, and He will make me perfect.

Go back and read the passage again. Seriously, I’ll wait. Scroll back and read the scripture passage again. No, really…scroll back up the page and read the whole Scripture passage a second time.

Thank you.

Did you notice that Jesus, being asked about being ‘good’, states that only God is good? Jesus declares that only God is good (excluding everyone else) and then instructs the rich man to keep the commandments. I have always taken this as a sign that Jesus knew that being human was a major impediment to being like God…that only God was good and humans could do little more than try and follow God’s example.  To me, this means that humans can NEVER be good. Goodness is reserved for God alone.

That makes sense to me, because so much of this world is chaotic and screwed up. Heck, my own flesh is chaotic and screwed up! As I get older, more and more goes wrong with my body no matter how hard I work to stay healthy. This body isn’t meant to last for an eternity…only my soul is built for longevity and eternity. My body? I’m 53, so my body is going to return to dust sometime in the next 45 years.  I am, essentially, on the downhill slide to death. There is no hope for this body: it is mortal and it shall pass away. My soul? My soul is eternal and it will return to its Creator because it cannot be separated from its Creator.

Having said all that, I want to bring this passage of Scripture back to where I live on almost a daily basis: good vs. perfect.  I would LOVE to be perfect in the name of God!  I would love to perfectly care for my parishioners and my clients. I would LOVE to perfectly serve the Kingdom, never running out of energy or patience. I would LOVE to be the perfect wife, the perfect friend, the perfect daughter and the perfect mother…I would love to be perfect.  I have almost built an idol to my dreams of perfection.

But you and I both know that perfection just isn’t going to happen.

You know how we know that? Because when someone asks Jesus what they have to do to be ‘good’, Jesus makes it clear that there is only one person who is good and that is GOD. That’s it: God is good and everyone else falls short. We have, in so many ways, no hope of being good. But the rich young ruler insists that he’s followed all the commandments and that he still feels unsure of eternal life.  So Jesus makes a statement that is actually a question—a very meaningful question. He says:

“If you wish to be perfect…”

If only God is good, how the heck is anyone on Earth supposed to be PERFECT???!  Doesn’t that seem impossible?

Literally, having told the rich young ruler that only God is good, Jesus then says “If you want to be perfect, you must…”

And of course, what Jesus lists as the requirements of perfection are far beyond what the rich young ruler is willing to do. But that shouldn’t surprise any of us, because perfection is always outside of our ability. There is no way to be perfectly faithful, perfectly sinless, perfectly giving, perfectly patient…especially when Jesus tells us that only God is good.

Essentially what Jesus is saying to the rich young ruler is “If you want to try to attain Heaven all by yourself you are going to have to be PERFECT…so here goes…” and you know that the rich young ruler is NOT going to be able to pull it off.  Perfection is way out of our grasp if only God can be good.

Big surprise there, huh?

Not really.   I think all of us knew that there was no way for us to be perfect in God’s eyes, because if we could be perfect all on our own, why did God send Jesus to die for our sins?

Makes no sense, huh?  Yeah…that’s the WHOLE idea.

The reason that I struggle with Matthew 19:16-22 is that it sits in contradiction to everything I know about God and Jesus.

I can’t be holy enough to impress God—that’s why God sent Jesus to die for me.

I can’t rescue myself from my mess…that’s why God sent Jesus, to recue me from everything that I can’t seem to escape.

I can’t perfectly fulfill God’s law…and Jesus’ death frees me from having to obey that law.

I can’t…I never could!  But Jesus? He can…He will…and He always has been able to do all that is necessary for us to achieve eternal life.  Everything we need is present in Jesus Christ.

That’s the whole doggone point!!!  And that’s the point of Jesus’ discussion with the rich, young ruler.

There is now way that we can earn salvation on our own…only Jesus can do that for us, and without Him, we have no hope.

Don’t bother trying to be perfect. Heck…don’t even bother trying to be good, because according to Jesus, only one is good, and that One is God!

When it comes down to it, all that Jesus wants from us is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8) Those things are within our reach because God has placed them fully within our reach.  Perfection? Not. So. Much.  Perfection is out of our reach. Even goodness is out of our reach.

That ought to clarify the ‘good enough’ question.

You’ll never make it. You don’t have to.

God already decided that He loves you and wants to save you.

All you have to do is believe and accept that you will never, ever be good enough…even though you are more than enough for God to sacrifice His son to save you.

It’s a paradox. Just go with it.

Amen.

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God’s Persistent Love

I am busier than a one-armed paper hanger.

If you actually remember what that phrase refers to (hello…wallpaper?) you realize that I am basically saying that I have more tasks than I actually have ability  and strength.

Why do I do this to myself?

This is a topic that I’ve addressed before, since, well…I am who I am, and I don’t seem to be able to do much about who I am, and what I am is perpetually busy.  If I have free time, I find a way to fill it with something to do that is usually task oriented.

John Wesley would probably have nice things to say about how busy I am, only because John was the guy who would instruct the ministers he was about ordain, saying:

Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary.  Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.

I appear to have taken Mr. Wesley very, very seriously.

Despite my affection for John Wesley, I often ask myself why it is that I always overschedule myself. I wondered if there was something that I was covering up with busyness, something I was trying to obscure from myself or avoid processing. But nothing has ever reared its ugly head, not in periods of silence or enforced rest (ahhhh, sickness and surgery) or in periods of self-evaluation.  At the risk of sounding boring, I have failed to find anything ugly and scandalous enough to hide.

I have wondered a few times if my issue is with silence, but that doesn’t pan out either. I rather like silence because it allows me some time to explore the thoughts that I am often too busy to fully entertain. Silence gives me extra time for emotion and expression and for things like writing.

Hello there, reader! I don’t know if you realize this, but my relationship with you is entirely born from the joy of silence.  I made space for words, and suddenly there you were!

Occasionally I wonder if I just don’t like TV enough to sit and watch it for very long.  I enjoy watching TV and movies, but I always find myself doing something else while the TV is on, alternating between actually listening to the news or whatever crime show I’m watching, and some sort of craft, book, or task that I feel needs to be done. My husband will tell you that I am terrible about watching movies. If my husband wants me to see a movie, he has to take me to the movie theater because there is nothing else to do at the movie theater except watch the movie and eat popcorn.

So exactly what is my issue? (Trust me, there are many people who have contemplated this question across the ages: my parents, my husband, both my daughters, anyone who has ever worked with me, anyone who has ever been my boss…none of them has ever come up with a satisfactory answer. I am, apparently, a conundrum.)

Earlier today, as I was rushing through several undone tasks from earlier in the week, I came across a friend’s “talk” for the Walk to Emmaus, something I had promised to read and critique. As I read her talk, I came across a line that resonated with me a great deal:

“Achieving security is a lifelong process.  It is achieved through perseverance & the hard work of remaining open to God’s persistent love.”

That phrase…”the hard work of remaining open to God’s persistent love” touched me deeply.

One of the things that keeps me so busy is the desire to have a positive impact on those around me. I “do” so that others might experience God’s love, God’s provision for them, God’s desire for their wholeness and healing, and God’s presence in their lives.  My job, as a minister, is to bring Christ to the people who I encounter on a daily basis.  Bringing Jesus wherever I go is a busy thing, since everybody needs a little more Jesus than they are currently getting, and there are plenty of people who need way more Jesus than they are currently getting…and that requires someone who loves Jesus, someone with flesh on, to bring Jesus in the form of service and friendship.

Let me tell you, there is way more need for Jesus than I’m able to meet, and I run out of energy, compassion, and kindness long before the need for Jesus is exhausted.

You can see where this is going. I get busier and busier, trying to satisfy the needs of the world, finding myself falling short day after day. It gets discouraging and it can leave me feeling like I am not a very good vessel for Jesus because I can’t seem to hold enough Jesus to get the job done effectively.

This is where the phrase “the hard work of remaining open to God’s persistent love” hits me the hardest.

You see, I want to give myself demerits for all the work that goes undone, the comforting cards I fail to send, the people I fail to visit, the tasks I cannot complete…so when God tries to overwhelm me with his love, I am too absorbed in self-criticism to notice.

What would happen if we admitted that self-criticism is largely ineffective in changing us for the better, while it is also our most efficient way of blocking God’s unrelenting love from reaching us? What would happen if we admitted that we indulge our self-criticism, because it is easier to pick ourselves apart than to allow ourselves to accept love that we know we do not deserve in amounts greater than we can conceive of because it highlights just how frail, small, and ineffective we are?

The truth is that God’s love is so intense and so huge that it scares us.

We keep thinking that God’s love is like human love, and that one day God will realize that we aren’t worthy of His devotion, adoration, and overwhelming love for us.  We keep waiting for God to ‘dump’ us, in so many words. We are afraid to accept is that God is head over heels in love with us despite all our frailties and failures and stupidity and stubbornness. God’s love is not stymied by our refusal to believe in its breadth and depth, God’s love is not diminished by our sinfulness or our failure to acknowledge His greatness.

God’s love is absolute, and as humans, we have trouble believing in absolutes.

So we get busy, thinking we need to earn what is already ours.

We self-criticize, trying to become worthy of something that was granted to us at our birth and that will never be rescinded.

We cling to the idea of ‘good enough’ because it freaks us out that nothing we can do will change God’s opinion of us.  It freaks us out to realize that God thinks that we are…

Magnificent. Beautiful. Captivating. Inspiring. Precious. Deserving. Lovable.

It is beyond comprehension to believe that God thinks we are worthy of salvation.

Listen…there is nothing wrong with trying to have a meaningful life, or wanting to make sure that you serve others, or desiring to leave an impact on this world.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to bring Jesus to a hurting world.

Just remember that there is nothing that you can do to increase your value in the eyes of your Maker.  He decided that you were utterly precious before He even formed you in your mother’s womb, and nothing you can do or not do can separate you from His unending love.

All that is left to you is “to do the hard work of remaining open to God’s persistent love.”

Go ahead…stop everything that you are doing and take a moment to let yourself feel the flood of love and grace that are yours in Christ Jesus.

It’s enough to knock you out of your chair, so be prepared to hang on. And be prepared to cry, because nothing can prepare you the way that His grace will make you feel or the way that His love will make you whole.

And That’s Exactly How I Feel

I ended up in an unusual discussion with a friend of mine today. She was commenting on the riots at Berkeley and her feeling that the riots happened because “the left” is unwilling to hear dissenting opinions.  I had to disagree, partly because I am a liberal and so technically part of the ‘left’ and I don’t really have a problem with dissenting opinions as long as the other person is able to explain their opinion to me logically.  The other reason I disagreed with my friend is because I don’t really believe you can categorize a group that is so large and diverse with just two words.

“The left.”

Is there actually such a thing? If there is, surely there must be “the right” as well. But can we so easily be divided into two camps?  Are we really so simple and so binary in our opinions?

If we are going to be honest with each other, no.  It isn’t possible to simplify our politics into two separate groups labeled ‘left’ and ‘right’ and then fully describe each group to clarify their positions.  The idea that we are so easily divided and defined is a fallacy that many politicians and journalists like to use when they make statements; it’s a great way of polarizing the issues and labeling your opposition as ‘other’ and incorrect in their thinking.

Except people aren’t so easily defined.

My parents are conservatives both theologically and politically and yet they are both disgusted with our new President and his latest antics. They are disgusted by Breitbart News and horrified by the taint of racism that hangs over Steve Bannon and several of Trump’s cabinet nominees. My parents have voted republican for as long as I’ve been alive, and their views have grown more conservative as they’ve aged, and yet they fail to meet the criteria of being in the religious right.

Why? Let’s start with the fact that neither of my parents is interested in the “Freedom of Religion” legislation that allows Christians to discriminate against LGBTQ persons on the basis that the LGBTQ lifestyle is counter to their religious beliefs.  To quote my mother, “If you find that kind of lifestyle sinful, then don’t live that lifestyle. Other than that, what’s the issue? They are people just like you and me, sinners just like you and me, and God loves them, just like you and me.”  Remember, this is my conservative mother who continues to believe that homosexuality is not God’s will and not righteous… and both she and my father believe that to discriminate against any LGBTQ person is to offend God and to commit a sin.  So are my parents ‘right’ or ‘left’?

Both?  Neither? Somewhere in the middle?

My parents are what I like to call Compassionate Conservatives, a group of people who hold their religious beliefs and morals close to their heart but refuse to use those morals and beliefs to exclude or openly judge the lives of others. They consider such behavior counter to God’s will that they extend the love of Christ to everyone, no matter who that person is or what their choices are.  In the same vein, they realize that their life experiences have led them to certain values, morals, and beliefs that other people who did not have those same experiences may not share. In fact, they openly admit that perhaps they would think differently if they had had different life experiences.

And that is the crux of the matter.

It is so easy for us to judge someone else as wrong from our personal vantage point.  It’s so easy for white people to throw out the line “All Lives Matter” when we have not ONE idea what it is like to fear racial profiling, to fear the police will shoot you simply because you don’t get on the ground fast enough after a traffic stop; we have no idea what it’s like to wonder if our black life actually matters to our local police or politicians.  It’s so easy for men to call women out on using the “woman card” when they have no idea what it is like to be demeaned, mansplained to, sexually harassed, sexually discriminated against, and to be passed over for promotions because management fears that you’ll consider getting pregnant sometime in the distant future, as if your brains and skills are worth less because they come with a uterus as standard equipment.  It’s so easy for financially comfortable people to give that dirty look to the person who pulls out their EBT (food stamp) card, yet they have no idea what it is like to live in a two income family and still not have enough money to pay for food and electricity if you also pay for rent and transportation, or for your child’s schooling and medical needs…or to be a single parent trying to figure out how to work and pay for child care and still have enough to cover daycare so that you actually can get a job.  Don’t even get me started on white privilege and the number of times I’ve had to explain that white men in sports cars don’t get pulled over on the assumption that a white man must have stolen a car that nice (which happens to young men who are black or Latino all the time.)

My point is this: YOU ONLY THINK YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE FOR THAT OTHER GUY OVER THERE.

We only think we know what it’s like to be that other person, to live their life, to wake up in their skin, to face their daily challenges, to have to see the future through the eyes of their past, and to live with the things they fear.

And because we don’t know what it’s like to live their life, maybe we should try asking a few questions before we start judging them.

To give one example: if we wonder why the people of Ferguson rioted in the streets, maybe we ought to listen to them tell their stories of bad action by the police. Maybe we should ask them what it’s like not being able to trust the local police to treat them fairly and with justice, to fear that instead they will be unjustly arrested and perhaps even attacked by the police. Maybe we should try to imagine living in a city where you don’t know who to fear more: the criminals or the police.  Maybe we should try to imagine being arrested by policemen that we believe will do everything in their power to unjustly convict us.   Still wondering why the young men in Ferguson act in confrontational ways towards the police? No, me neither. No.  Actually, their reaction kind of makes sense in light of the reality they live in.

When I was a young girl I read Corrie Ten Boom’s memoir, telling the story of her resistance to the Nazi’s and subsequent arrest for hiding Jews. My father discussed the book with me and told me that true Christians stand in opposition to unjust authorities, even if it means that we will be arrested and punished.  My parents taught me that morality is greater than the law because God Himself declares what morality is…and the highest moral is love for all God’s people. To stand against an unjust authority is to act in imitation of Jesus Christ.  If I lived in Ferguson…I’d be resisting the local police for the sake of justice for my neighbor.

That brings me back to Compassionate Conservatives.

I only call them that because I’m liberal and I think we are a compassionate bunch, but I’m betting there are some conservatives who would disagree, and they’d probably have really good examples of liberals who have done horrible things in the name of being right (not ‘right’ but right as in correct.)

Maybe this whole deal—religion and politics—would work better if we just started being more compassionate, if we started working more diligently to see how hard the other guy has it before we rush to judgement.  Maybe we should assume that people have a good reason for the behaviors and beliefs we think are so strange and unacceptable.  Maybe we should even start asking more questions and listening more than we speak.

Holy smoke, I think I’m onto something.

Whether you are ‘right’ or ‘left’ doesn’t really matter, because we’re all just trying to do what is best for our country and our people.  Let’s start there: that we all want the same thing—prosperity and success—for ourselves and our country and then see if we can’t find some more common ground to stand on.

Because if we continue with this ‘right’/’left’ thing all we’ll manage to do is play tug of war, and I don’t think that’s how you run a nation unless you are running it into the ground.

How Can Feeling so RIGHT be so WRONG?

Anger is a poison you drink hoping the other person will die.   Unattributed

Anger.

It’s everywhere!  Part of it is the political season, but lately it just seems that anger is the emotion du jour.

Anger, by itself, isn’t really a bad thing.  It helps you express your opinion and your frustration, often loudly and forcefully.  But the whole thing about anger is that you are supposed to speak your peace and then be done…let go…get over whatever happened and get back to normal, which for most people means getting back to contentment and maybe even happiness.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for everyone.  Or more accurately, that is not how some people choose to deal with their anger.

I regularly deal with clients who live in a perpetual state of anger, constantly reciting the wrongs done and the righteous indignation that comes from being wronged over and over and over.

I don’t really blame them for their anger.  After all, things actually did not go their way and they did get hurt…there are real reasons for their anger.

But why in the world would anyone want to be angry all the time?

There are lots of reasons.

Admit it: there is a certain amount of self-justification and righteous indignation that go with being angry.  It is very affirming to know that you are RIGHT when the other party is SO WRONG.  And can we admit that being angry is very energizing?  I know several women who pour their anger into cleaning frenzies that leave the entire house spotless while leaving them spent, with no energy left to feed their anger.  It’s a great way to burn off all the jagged hyperactivity that anger can bring, especially if you want to avoid pouring your anger out all over your kids or your partner.  I have indulged myself with more than one cleaning frenzy since I got married and I have warned my husband to never try and stop me because no one should have to deal with me when I’m that angry.  Besides, a clean house is a nice thing. So get out my way, don’t talk to me, and LET ME CLEAN!!

There…I feel better now.

Every angry client I see says the same thing: I can’t let it go. What they did was so wrong. I can’t seem to get over it!  And I respond the same way every time.

Anger is a secondary emotion.  Anger is the human version of a dog growling and baring its teeth…and dogs do that when they are afraid or in pain.  Humans become angry to cover three emotions: pain, sorrow, and fear.  We use anger to gird ourselves for battle despite our fear and pain, and to cover our grief with energy for action.  After all, when we are afraid we want to do whatever we can to eliminate the reason for our fear.  When we are filled with grief and sorrow we want to stop whatever caused our grief (thus groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Stand Up 2 Cancer, etc.)  When we are in pain, we want to lash out at whatever and whoever is causing our pain.  Thus…anger and all the energy it brings.

Anger is a great emotion, created by God to help us take action (when we need to) to get out a bad situation that is causing us fear, pain, or sorrow.  Anger is very useful, and the energy that anger brings is often exactly what we need to get through a difficult moment.

However, anger is supposed to be a temporary solution.  We aren’t supposed to stay there, lingering in our anger, simmering like a pot constantly on the edge of boiling.  We are supposed to use our anger while the threat still exists, and then move on to processing the underlying emotions that fed the anger.

Counselors have a saying about emotions: Feelings are like farts. It’s best if you let them out, even though it will be unpleasant for a while.  Suppressing your feelings is as bad for you as trying to hold in your farts: eventually they will come out and it will always be at the wrong time and it will always be messier than you want it to be.

Emotions are also a lot like water: if you give them air, they will eventually evaporate.  Unfortunately, anger has to bottle up the fear, pain, and sorrow in order to gain its energy; as long as the anger continues, the fear, pain, and sorrow cannot evaporate at all.  The thing is that in order for the anger to stop, you have to choose to open up that bottle and pour it out, and most folks don’t want to do that. And who would blame them?  Fear, pain, and sorrow is that they are really unpleasant emotions.   Even worse, when you are dealing with fear, pain, or sorrow it can feel as if you will always feel this badly, that you will always be stuck in this agony, unable to move forward.

Of course, that is a lie.  For some reason we are deeply aware that happiness and joy are fragile, passing emotions that can be swept away from us by circumstance. Despite this awareness, we often act as though our pain, fear, and sorrow can trap us, keeping us locked in misery for the rest of our lives.

Maybe we believe this because we’ve seen people who seemed to live in perpetual misery.  Dealing with them is another blog post entirely, but for now let’s just say that anyone who lives in perpetual misery has allowed a single emotion to become their identity…but they CHOSE to have that emotion become their identity.  It didn’t happen by accident.  They invested in keeping that particular emotion alive. Thus the person you know who is always angry for one reason or another: they have chosen to let anger become their identity.

So what does this have to do with you?

When you find yourself stewing over something, constantly mulling it over and replaying the argument or the situation, take some steps to kill your anger.  Remember, you have to choose to open the anger bottle and pour it out.  Here are a few techniques to help you:

Ask yourself:

  • Is there some action I need to take? Realistically, is there anything I need to DO before I let this go? Do not include things like giving someone a piece of your mind, or giving them a taste of their own medicine in this list.  Valid actions would be having an honest discussion with the other person, or looking up the relevant rules and laws surrounding the situation.  In other words, angry actions do not belong on this list.  Pick actions that could potentially create a solution to the situation.
  • What am I feeling besides anger? Am I afraid of something bad happening? Am I hurt or embarrassed and therefore lashing out? Does this situation make me deeply sad?  What ELSE am I feeling?  This one could take some time because often we go straight to anger without really giving ourselves time to feel the fear, sorrow, or pain that started up our angry reaction in the first place.  This is an exercise in getting in touch with your own self and your own needs.  It can be difficult, so be prepared to journal, to give yourself time in silence, to pray, and to talk with a friend (not about your anger!) to clarify your feelings.  Ask yourself: what am I afraid of in this situation? What do I stand to lose? (grief/sorrow) What does this situation mean about me? (pain)
  • Take a moment to honestly assess what could go wrong if you don’t stay angry. What do you stand to lose? For instance, if staying angry means that you stand up to someone who is trying to take illegal action, then stay angry for a while and go back to #1 and decide what you need to do.  And let me be clear: letting go of your anger doesn’t mean that what the other person did or said is okay.  Letting go of your anger has nothing to do with the other person at all.  Your emotions are your own and no one else is feeling them.  They may know that you’re angry and it might even matter to them, but you staying angry doesn’t make them decide that they were wrong.  Your anger isn’t a punishment to anyone, but if you hold onto it long enough it will become a punishment to you.

Most important to remember is that most human beings don’t do what they do in order to hurt you, scare you, or make you sad.  If you have people in your life who actually do things just to make you hurt or be frightened…leave them!  Leave them now!  That kind of behavior is sick and disordered and you need to remember that is not just my opinion; I’m a counselor and I’m telling you that people who hurt you and scare you on purpose are disordered and sick. Normal behavior is mostly self-focused, and when the average person behaves they are simply meeting their own needs even when the behavior seems directed at YOU.  Personalizing someone else’s behavior or words makes about as much sense as believing that guy who lives across the street brushes his teeth in the morning to make fun of you.  Stupid, isn’t it?  Yep…so stop believing that your partner leaves their shoes and clothing all over the house because they don’t care about you, or believing that the guy in the next cube turns his music up too loud because he’s trying to piss you off.  No…they are simply choosing not to perceive how their behavior impacts others, which isn’t great, but it still isn’t behavior done on purpose to hurt you or make you angry.

Do yourself a favor: don’t drink the poison.

Did You Miss Me? Well…did you???

You probably haven’t noticed…but I’ve been gone for a while. It’s been almost six weeks since my last post.  The first four Thursdays were lost to traveling, and last Thursday was dedicated to Annual Conference.  Being gone for such a long, long time has left me with several things I want to say to you.  About the trip through Europe:

  • The world is a wonderful place! My husband Phil and I stayed in Dublin for a few days, and then flew to Amsterdam so that we could board a river cruise that took us through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary.  Every place we went was all about the rivers: Liffey (Dublin—we stayed in the Docklands); Rhine; Main; and Danube.  Dublin is a huge city divided by the river and our long walks along the river were equally peaceful and exciting. The land along the rivers in mainland Europe was beautiful: rolling hills, little towns, ancient castles and cathedrals, mobile home and RV parks where people hung out to fish and relax.  The scenery was lovely, but that’s not what made me so happy.  People make me happy.  Over and over, on the cruise and out in the towns, we met wonderful, friendly, helpful people.  It’s easy to forget how friendly and helpful the world is when what you hear on the news tells you to fear others, to fear the immigrant, to fear Islamic peoples, to fear in general.  We went on a walking tour of Frankfurt and our guide was a young Muslim woman. She was friendly and easy to talk to, and while discussion of religion led us to disagree about the interpretation of the Christian scriptures, Phil and I found her to be fascinating and friendly. I would gladly have spent the entire day with her so that she could tell us more about life in Germany, but she had other tours to lead that afternoon.  And then there were the people who were with us on the cruise. It was a small boat, and there were only 111 passengers, so it was easy to get to know folks, and most of the people we met were not from the US.  We spent most of our days going on walking and cycling tours with our brand new friends, and most of our nights singing and dancing with them in the lounge.  It was fantastic!
  • The world is not always kind enough. This I learned mostly on the ship as I got to watch human beings behaving badly: too drunk; too rude; and too impressed with their own class, wealth, and achievements to treat the people serving them as equals. It is really hard to watch someone behave that badly and not say something, and I found myself apologizing to waiters, housekeeping, and bar staff for the behaviors of others.  It’s interesting to note that bad behavior isn’t limited to one color, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic class.  Apparently, we are equally capable of being a**holes no matter what our background. Unfortunate, but true.
  • The gender and sexual preference gap isn’t as large as we think it is. There was a large group of gay men travelling together on the cruise, and two of them had originally booked this cruise as a couple.  Sadly, their six year-long partnership came apart shortly before the cruise date.  Friends of theirs who were also on the boat agreed to change room assignments so that the newly dissolved couple didn’t have to share a room.  Phil and I met the entire group the first day of the cruise, and it wasn’t long before one of the friends let us in on what was causing all the sturm und drang (a great phrase if you are touring Germany!) Watching their broken hearted attempts to enjoy the trip was painful. Watching one of the them drink himself into oblivion over his broken heart was agonizing. Listening to that same man discuss the problems he was having with his new partner was enlightening.  Apparently, couple drama is couple drama and what side of the sexual preference or gender divide you fall on turns out to be meaningless.  Two men fight and cry and worry just like two women fight and cry and worry just like a man and a woman fight and cry and worry.  The other dimension is also true: the joy of one type of couple doesn’t look much difference than the joy of a different type of couple.  Shortly before my husband gave me a beautiful Swarovski bracelet for our 28th anniversary, we watched Micheal give Christopher a watch for their 9th anniversary…and Chris’s reaction was pretty much the same as mine was.  Two people loving each other is a beautiful thing, and there was no difference in how we celebrated the many wedding anniversaries for straight couples or the anniversaries for gay couples.  Apparently, love is love is love is love and we might want to quit worrying about what separates us and simply focus on increasing the amount of love in the world. It’s a beautiful thing.

 

Only five days after we came home from Europe, I found myself back in a hotel, attending the Annual Conference of the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Man that’s a mouthful!  Let’s just call it DSW2016, because it’s easier that way.  Anyway, the Bishop had asked me to preach the memorial service this year, mostly because I am an ordained Deacon (the specialist type of minister in the UMC) and this year was the 20th anniversary of the Order of Deacons.  It was an honor to be asked to preach at annual conference, but also a very anxious thing. I fretted over that sermon, let me tell you.  I was so anxious the day that I had to preach that I had trouble drinking my coffee—it gave me a stomachache.  I’m pretty anxious in general, and moments like this only make it worse.  Anyway…I preached my sermon and it went really well. Really well, as in better than I could have hoped it would go. However, there are a few things that I learned from preaching at DSW2016, and while I don’t expect my colleagues in ministry to be reading this, I’m going to say it anyway (probably because it’s hard to shut me up…and I’ll bet you see what I did there!)

  • Avoid backhanded insults disguised as compliments. Saying “Wow! I didn’t know that you could preach!” or “You did a really good job on that! Did you write that sermon?” is just rude. Folks, I went to seminary just like all the other ministers do and I’ve been clergy since 2003.  Really? If you can’t say anything nice…
  • Unless you are the one directly benefitting from someone else’s hard work, say “Good job!” only once. More than that and it starts sounding insincere. I admit that this might be my insecurity talking, but at the same time, all I can think of is how we overly praise a four year-old for their scribble drawing…and how insincere it is.  Too much praise is uncomfortable and smacks of condescension.
  • Let your emotions speak. This year’s memorial service honored the recently deceased spouses of a number of my colleagues, and after I preached, one of them came up to me and hugged tightly me for a good minute. She didn’t need to say anything for me to know how she felt about my sermon, or how well I had memorialized her husband.  There aren’t enough words to convey what that hug and her tears said to me.
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to put your praise in writing. I had several colleagues who emailed me to say ‘good job.’ I save emails and notes like those for bad days when my self-esteem is low. Words of praise that are tangible (i.e. written) are powerful talismans of past achievement and can lift someone up years after the words were written. It is a great gift to tell someone in writing what good you think they have done, even if the message is brief.

And that’s it.  It’s good to be back home and back into my routine, and good to be talking with my readers again.  Enough people asked for copies of my memorial sermon that I am attaching it to this post for their convenience.  I hope you enjoy it as well.

The text of the memorial sermon preached on June 16, 2016 at DSW Annual Conference 2016.

Luke 22:14-20

14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Do this in remembrance of me.

We normally speak those words as we stand at the altar, elevating the bread and the cup as we enter into the Lord’s Supper. But tonight, we are gathered to remember in a different way: tonight we memorialize and honor those who have died and gone home to glory.  We are here because they were our colleagues, our friends, our family…and we love them and so…tonight we are here to remember.

But what is it that we should remember?  In the memorializing of a life, what do we come to remember?  Their actions? Their achievements? Their legacy?

Maybe it’s the good times. We only get so much time with the people we love and no matter how much time we get, it’s never enough.  Both of my in-laws have passed on and I must admit that I often think about how much I would love to have an hour with them now.  An hour would be great…not because I want to say anything profound to them and not to thank them for the gift they gave me in my spouse because I did that while they were alive.  I would love an hour with my in-laws just to laugh with them about the stupid stuff we used to laugh over…to remember all of our stories.  Like the one about how my father-in-law ended up sitting on Santa’s lap. Or how he hid an entire pound of Ethel Mastin’s homemade peanut brittle because it was SO good and he didn’t want anyone else to eat it all up. You start telling stories about the people you love, and one story leads to another and then another and each story is funnier than the last one until there are tears dripping down your face, not from sorrow but from hilarity. Perhaps a life is best remembered in laughter.

I must admit, though, that when I talk about the people that I love, I do tell an awful lot of stories about what I learned from them.  In the end, if you are paying attention…if you are listening and watching…there is so much to learn from the people we love.  There are the lessons they teach us on purpose:  how to change a tire; how to cook a meal; how to drive stick shift; how to balance a checkbook.  Then there are the lessons they teach us by example: faith; honesty; kindness; patience.  And then there are the lessons they taught us with simple words shared at the most crucial times: words of forgiveness and grace that we could not have granted ourselves; words that convey lessons of life wisdom learned the hard way.  When I was a little girl, my father told me that if I thought he was wrong, I should tell him, and we would discuss it, and if he was wrong he would apologize. My father’s parents were NEVER wrong. I never forgot the day my father apologized.  It was a huge lesson: it gave me permission to challenge authority when I thought it was wrong, but more than that: my father gave me permission to be wrong and ask for forgiveness for my error. Perhaps a life is best remembered in its wisdom.

You know that joke: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am my mother after all”?  I remember the first time I heard my mother’s words come out of my own mouth, not in repetition of her wisdom, but yelled at my children. I think all of us relate to that moment…we’ve all gotten there, especially if you have children…because there is no way to avoid imitating the people you love the most. You spend so much time with them and they have such a huge impact on your life.  How can you love someone and not be impacted by who they are when you admire so much of what they do and what they say? When you admire so much of how they are in the world?  And honestly, there is no way to be loved by someone and not be changed by the relationship you have with them.  It’s as if the love they have for you leaves an indelible mark on you that can never be erased.  It’s almost as if they are a tea bag that steeps in the pot that is you and leaves behind a flavor that can never be removed no matter how many other flavors end up in that pot over time.  Whatever they leave behind is permanent.  In the end you end up taking on some of their ways of thinking and some of their ways of being and some of their habits…maybe a life is best remembered in imitation.

And let’s admit it: love changes us because love is a revolutionary act.  It really is, because sometimes someone loves you in direct defiance of what the world thinks of you, in direct defiance what the people around you think of you…sometimes they love you in direct defiance of what YOU think of you.  I swear, the hardest thing to accept is that we are lovable despite all of our flaws and our failures and the mess that we are inside.  And every person who loves us…THESE people who we are memorializing who loved us…they gave loud testimony to the worth that was inherent in our being and to the beauty that we possess even when we deny it.  Love is a revolutionary act, and the fact that these beloved that we are honoring loved us…that they TRULY, DEEPLY loved us…was amazing, and life-changing, and life-giving, and live-sustaining.  Maybe a life is best remembered in love.

Do this in remembrance of me.

When I was in studying at Claremont School of Theology, I had a New Testament professor…Greg Riley.  One day in class he said that we might just have the Last Supper all wrong, that we may have interpreted it incorrectly for hundreds of years.  He said to the class “We think that Jesus meant that we should remember Him when we eat bread and drink wine…that we should gather around the table and do this together and remember Him.  But what if Jesus meant: do THIS (breaking motion) in remembrance of me?  Do THIS (poured out motion) in remembrance of me?  What if He wanted us to allow ourselves to be broken as He was broken and poured out as He was poured out…in remembrance of Him?”  I think about that a lot.  I think that these saints before us today already had that figured out and spent their lives living it out. 

I’m a counselor, and in graduate school I was taught that we come into this world a tabula rasa…a blank slate. I knew that to be a lie the minute I heard it, because if there is a slate that is me, a slate that is YOU, that slate is carved with the image of Jesus Christ…an image we bear that cannot be erased. It can be covered up, but it cannot be erased.  And anywhere we are…anywhere where we try to leave our mark…evidence that we were here in the world…what we leave behind is the image of the living Christ that is stamped into our very being.  That is what the people who we remember today brought into the world.  But they didn’t stop there.

Because these saints that we remember today did not live meager lives, going forth only to do just a little, and get by.  These saints LIVED in the name of Jesus Christ.  They THRIVED in the name of Jesus Christ.  They SERVED and they GAVE in the name of Jesus Christ.  These saints lived a life that truly remembered and honored the One who is their Savior.  They left their mark.  The image of Christ that they leave behind is imprinted on us, and their willingness to be broken and be poured out in Jesus’ name has left their imprint on their family, on their friends, on their Church and their community. There is no way you can miss the mark they have left behind!  Praise be to God!

If we are going to remember them, then let us tell their stories and laugh because they brought us great joy!  Let us remember their wisdom, because they guided us well and led us on the paths that lead to righteousness.  And then let us live in imitation of how they lived, leaving behind the image of the living Christ wherever we go.  Let us love in their memory…let us love in a revolutionary way…loving one another and our neighbor, loving our enemy and the people we fear the most and despise the most…loving beyond borders and beyond all reasonability.  But most of all, let us live like they lived so that when we die, we will be remembered as they are being remembered today: as ones who allowed themselves to be broken and poured out in the name of One was broken and poured out for us all.

Do THIS in remembrance of them.  There is no better way to remember a life. Amen.

 

 

Deserters, Betrayers, and Liars!

12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”16 So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’

28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.

Mark 14:12-31

We all know the story of the Last Supper. At least we think we do.  The meaning that this meal has taken on for us—the fact that it has become a ritual and the holy meal of Communion—I don’t think that’s what it was for the Disciples that night.  I honestly don’t think that’s what it was for Jesus either.  I think maybe the disciples had a good idea that something big was about to happen, and of course Jesus knew exactly what was about to happen.  But for all of them, the meal that night—the meal many of us with re-enact tonight—that meal was a holiday meal.  It was a Passover meal shared between thirteen friends…thirteen really good friends.

Jesus had gathered his 12 best friends in the world for one last dinner before he had to face the cross.  And it was the Passover feast, and so it was going to be one heck of a dinner: lots of ritual, lots of meaningful things to remember from their history as a Jewish people, and of course, incredibly tasty food!  Jesus was there with his Disciples to celebrate the things that mattered to them: faith and family, even when that family is made of friends.

So…why was Judas there?

You have to ask that question, because in general, we Christians don’t like Judas very much.  He was a vile betrayer!  Judas was one of the twelve disciples. He had been there from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  He knew Jesus as well as any of the other disciples.  Jesus trusted him enough to let Judas be in charge of the money that was donated to support Jesus’s ministry, the money that fed Jesus and the disciples and kept them all together so that they could minister to people all over Judea.  And after all that, Judas turned around and betrayed Jesus.

So…why was Judas there?

You have to admit, it’s kind of weird to invite the guy who is about to betray you and guarantee that you will die a horrible death on the cross to a lavish holiday dinner that you are about to share with your best friends.

As Christians, we tend to revile Judas. I don’t know about you, but I have always thought of him as a smiling, slimy Yes-Man.  You know, that guy who smiles at the boss while he does his own thing under the table; the guy who makes it look like he’s totally committed to the vision we are all pursuing while lining his own pockets at our expense. The thing is that we get to form our opinions of Judas in the aftermath; in other words, the things we know about Judas are the things that got found out after everything was over and the betrayal was revealed.  The things we know about Judas start with our awareness that he betrayed Jesus and then we work backwards from there.

Jesus, on the other hand, met Judas before it all began.  Jesus got to know Judas the exact same way we get to know all of our friends: we meet them unaware of who they are and come to like them because of who we perceive them to be.  We hang out with them and laugh at their jokes, put up with their temper, and lean on their character when we are feeling low and incapable.  In other words, Jesus got to know Judas just like we get to know everyone we eventually become friends with: in real time, not knowing how the story will end.

Yet Scripture tells us that by the time that Jesus was sitting with the Disciples at the Last Supper he knew that Judas would betray him.  He knew that Judas was the one that would turn him in to the authorities and get him crucified.  He even says so right during the Last Supper.  It’s in the Scripture at the beginning of this blog post.  Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him, and yet he invited Judas to the dinner.

It baffles the mind.  Why invite the man who is going to betray you to the last meal you will ever eat with your friends?

The answer is right there, in the question.  Jesus invited Judas to the Last Supper because Jesus invited his…friends. Judas was His friend.  That’s why he was at the table with Jesus.  Because Judas one of Jesus’ best friends in the world.  It almost doesn’t make sense.

But it does make sense.

After all, Peter was at the table too.

Peter—that guy who was going to deny Jesus three times.  Jesus knew that was coming too.  Mark 14:30 says “Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”  

Jesus sat there through the entire dinner with Judas and Peter knowing that both of them would betray Him before the night was over.  And you might think “Yeah, but Judas got Jesus killed, and Peter…he went out and did good things to create the Kingdom after Jesus was killed. Peter became a great evangelist who created the Church and Jesus knew that was going to happen…Jesus knew that too.”  And that makes it look like Judas is a vile betrayer and Peter isn’t all that bad.

And I say to you—if Jesus knew what was going to happen with Peter after Jesus’ death, wouldn’t Jesus also know that Judas would die because he betrayed Jesus? Wouldn’t Jesus know that Judas would die alone, more alone than Jesus did…after all, Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross so that Jesus wouldn’t be alone when he died.  Judas? Judas was alone. There was no one there for Judas when he died.  No family, no friends, no comfort.  And Jesus knew it was coming.  Mark 14:21 says “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 

I’m betting that Jesus knew that the disciples would never forgive Judas; that no one, not even any of us would ever forgive Judas.  We revile him for what he did.  He betrayed Jesus.

But so did Peter.  So did every last disciple!  They all ran when the Centurions came and Jesus knew they would run.  Mark 14:26-31:

26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’

28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.”

They all swore they would stay with Jesus and they all ran. Every. Last. One.  They all deserted Jesus and left Him to be accused of things He didn’t do by people who hated Him.  They left Jesus to be beaten and humiliated by Roman centurions while He listened for the cock to crow twice so He could know that Peter had finished denying him.  The disciples ran and Jesus died.

Jesus ate his last meal on earth with his 12 best friends in the world…deserters, betrayers, and liars…every last one of them.

And that is why you and I are invited to this table tonight and every month when we celebrate this meal.  Because when Jesus shares a meal, He shares it with His very best friends in the world.  You and I…all of us…are invited to this specific meal, the very last one that Jesus will have on earth before He dies.  And we are here because Jesus invited us…because we are His very best friends in the world…deserters, betrayers, and liars…every last one of us.

We are just like the disciples were. We are just like Judas. We betray Jesus every day. We ask Him to be a savior that fits us for Heaven and heals our illnesses and relieves our woes even as we pray for Him to keep some particular candidate that we don’t like out of the President’s office because we don’t like them.  Seriously?! That’s why Jesus died?  So we can have good politics?  But isn’t that what Judas wanted: a political Jesus?  Someone who would come into Israel and set things straight; make the world according to God’s will.  That’s all Judas wanted.  Admit it, we kind of want that too.  And we lean on Jesus when we need Him, we call on Jesus to lead us through the darkest night, but then don’t really like it when Jesus makes claims on our time and on our money and on our spending habits and on the ways that we express ourselves.  We want a convenient Jesus was can turn to in times of need, but then when Jesus turns to us because He needs us to pony up and stand with Him in a difficult time, suddenly we go all Peter on Him and deny Jesus again…and again…and again.  We see Jesus taking us to that point in His ministry where things get really tough, that moment when we are asked to stand with Him when standing up with Him means that we will lose power and lose face in public.  When standing up for Jesus might mean that we have to be the underdog and love our enemy when our enemy is ready to kill us…and at that moment we desert Jesus just like the rest of His disciples.  In the end, we find ourselves in that “throwing stones in a glass house” space.  We can’t shake our fingers at the disciples because we are just like them. We can’t throw any stones at Judas because we ARE Judas.

And that is exactly why we’re invited to the table today and every time that the Church celebrates Communion, the Holy Eucharist.  Because Jesus just wants this last meal on earth with as many of His best friends that He can fit in the room…deserters, betrayers, and liars. We are His best friends in the world, and He wouldn’t have it any other way.

So take some time to celebrate the Last Supper on this night…the night before Jesus gives His life to save your life and mine.  Our Savior wants to spend as much time with His best friends as He can possibly have.  We owe it to Him, so let’s break this bread and drink this cup in remembrance of Him.  Amen.

 

Happy Sheep Ranting (nothing like Good Will Hunting, I promise)

Matthew 25:31-40
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

Would you mind being patient with me for a moment?  I need to rant just a little.

I am sick to death of attending worship services.  I am tired of being told that I need to worship the Lord and praise Him for His mighty works in some prescribed way on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening.  I am also weary of all the talk about worship you hear from church leaders.  I am weary of hearing people talk about how we need to have more passionate worship.  I am sick of church leaders discussing how to increase the quality of our worship so that we can increase the number of people attending worship.  I don’t want to hear one. more. word. about. WORSHIP!!

Am I making myself clear here?  I am done with worship.

I guess that I am struggling with the theological implications of what it means to worship God.  I struggle with the theological implications of having a God that wants to be worshipped. If God is my father, then I think my experiences as a parent tell me a lot about God’s experiences with me.  As a parent, I just want my kids to love me…not worship me.  It’s not just that I don’t deserve worship (because I don’t)…it’s that worship doesn’t do anything for the relationship between me and my kids.  I don’t want to have my kids ‘adore’ me…I just want to be loved and to have them be in a relationship with me. Heck, I want my kids to want to be in a relationship with me and not feel like it’s an obligation.  If God is my father…yeah, that again…it just makes sense that He might feel the same way. The older I get, the less sense worship makes to me, and the less I relate to worship, at least worship in the traditional sense of worship.

This last week has been a week filled with family and friends.  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were huge celebrations, with 19 people cramming into my mom’s house to celebrate dinner as a ‘framily’.  The framily is what my mom calls her blood relatives along with the friends who are so close that they might as well be family.  The next day I had 10 framily members at my house for presents and dinner.  Then yesterday we got to visit with more framily when my godson Reid and his father Dave came through Phoenix on their way to 29 Palms military base where Reid is stationed.  After my yoga class this morning I stopped by to hang out at a good friend’s house for a while.  She had made soup for my mom who is about to have back surgery and I stopped by to pick it up and chat. Later on I caught up with another friend while looking up medical information for her online; half the time we giggled about stupid stuff and the other half of the time we discussed really serious stuff.  It’s kind of nice to talk to someone and know that you can giggle and weep in the space of only five minutes and be certain that things will still be cool when you’re done.

Why am I telling you this?  Because…after each visit with my framily, I found myself praising God and thanking Him for the blessings of family and friends, for the joy and peace that I feel when I’m with them, and for the freedom to laugh and cry and find comfort and support in those relationships.  I am acutely aware of how deeply blessed I am; just how much God is present in my life through the presence of these people.  I feel God when I am with them because they love me and I love them back…and God is in that love, every time.  If God produced metrics and tracked how often and how much I praise Him, God would be able to tell you that I praise Him long and loud after hanging out with the people I love.

And that’s where I suddenly start thinking about ‘worship’ again.  Because I enjoy the beautiful music, the corporate prayer, and the great sermons I hear at church, but nothing really transports me into the joy of God the way that relationships can.  And it isn’t just close relationships with my friends and family, either.  I am one of the pastors at my church and I spend a lot of time with the people who attend services there either simply catching up with them or listening as they share their current challenges and sorrows and then taking time to pray with them.  I am not close friends with each and every person at my church, mostly because there are so many people there that I wouldn’t have enough time in the day to be friends with that many people. I’m definitely a people person, but that’s pushing it, you know?  I’m know that Kim Kardashian has over 1 million ‘friends’ on Facebook, but I’m betting she doesn’t have time to get personal with each and every one of them, and if she does…well…she is married to Yeezus.  Maybe he’s helping out somehow.  Yeah.

Anyway…

Even in the small encounters I have with people at church, I am uplifted and feel the joy of Christ.  I come home from church each Sunday high on the joy that comes from serving the family of God, blessed to be allowed to be with them in their triumphs and trials, and blessed to find my best friends among the people who call God their father and Jesus their friend and savior.

I wonder sometimes if God isn’t more interested in seeing His children come together and love on each other than He is in hearing us sing songs to Him and praise Him in worship.  There are times when I wonder if God isn’t a lot like any parent whose idea of a great Christmas gift is to have all of their kids come home for a visit at the same time so that they can bask in the glow of all that love and laughter.  There is something about having the whole family together that makes everyone feel stronger and life feel easier and sweeter.

I wonder if God feels on Sunday mornings much like I felt watching my family and friends hang out together on Christmas Eve.  I took in the scene, watching all 19 of us laughing and sharing stories, and I felt deeply peaceful and filled with joy.  There was so much love!  So much laughter! Even when there were a few tears (because life is difficult even in the best of times) there was comfort and peace and so much love. God must look at moments like this and think “This is why I created humanity! To love each other like I love them…to love Me and be loved by Me in return.”

The passage of scripture that opened this blog entry is frequently quoted and often the subject of sermons.  What we do for others we also do for Jesus Christ himself…and of course Jesus wants us to give not just to the people we love but also to the people we don’t even know and don’t love, to people that we wish we didn’t have to know, and to people who will never really want to know us“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40) In almost every sermon you hear on this passage, the preacher will focus on caring for the people on the edges of society: the marginalized; the immigrants; the widows and orphans; the disabled; the veterans; the homeless.  Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more with that interpretation.

But I want you to also hear this interpretation:  true worship is not about singing songs or reciting scripture passages or remembering to thank God for what you have been given in a litany of prayer on Sunday morning.  It is about coming together in love and friendship, loving each other freely and in doing so, loving God.  Can you imagine what it feels like for God to watch us gather together and laugh with each other, love on one another, cry with one another, and pray for one another? Each prayer, each hug, every single word of comfort, every moment of laughter—each and every one is actually shared with Christ Himself.  These aren’t casual moments and they aren’t trivial encounters.  There is no such thing as casually laughing with Jesus.  Believe me if Jesus showed up in your living room this afternoon to share some holiday cheer with you it would not be something you would think of as casual or trivial; you would remember that moment as a pivotal, life changing encounter!  You would also remember that moment as one where you asked yourself if you were hallucinating or if the world was coming to its end…but you’d get over that soon enough.  I’m guessing when Jesus says “Fear not!” that his proclamation pretty much ends whatever panic attack you started having when he walked through the door (or the wall…I’ve heard he does that.)

Coming back to where I started, I don’t want to hear about worship—I don’t want to discuss how to make it passionate, or how to draw more people to attend.  You might as well ask how you get more people to come and visit you in your home, or how to be more passionate in your relationship with your kids (doesn’t THAT sound weird and disturbing?)  Don’t ask those questions because they aren’t useful and they won’t change anything.

Stop asking about worship and start doing what Jesus told you to do.  Love one another.  Love one another. Love. One. Another…just like God loves you, and that means unabashedly, without limits, overmuch.  Infuse your love with laughter and joy, with tears and honest sharing of your pain, and with a true commitment to serving one another.  You want passionate worship?  Start there…with LOVE.  You want more people attending ‘worship’?  Love.  Start with love.  You can’t go wrong with love. Love is passionate and it will draw people to you.  No matter what you do, you can’t go wrong with love.

I’m done ranting now.  Thanks for listening.  I feel better already.  I’m going to go get ready for this evening’s festivities because the framily is getting together for worship, so to speak.  We won’t do much singing, and we might not do any praying, but we will love on one another quite a bit and where there is love happening there is worship.

Happy New Year and many blessings in 2016!