Sermon March 22, 2020

Good morning, and welcome to Travis Chapel and Cheriton United Methodist Churches…online! This Sunday, we are reading Psalm 23, and the sermon is an adventure into what is possible during this time of physical distancing. Much thanks to Michae, who was the film crew, producer, editor, publisher, and casserole baker.

I anticipate next week’s sermon will be a much simpler recording, in part because I’m going to respect the health officials’ recommendation that we stay home whenever possible. But I wanted to share this one moment in the sanctuary, because in-person worship had to be cancelled so suddenly last week, and I’m sure I’m not the only one mourning the loss of our shared holy spaces.

God’s not finished with us!

If anybody’s still following this blog from years ago, hello again! I am now a pastor. As we’re figuring out long-distance solutions for congregational worship, I’m using this as a way to share sermons.

Read: Romans 5:1-11

“Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. This proves God’s love toward us.” These words should sound familiar. We hear them in the pardon that follows our prayer of confession on the way to the Communion table. In Romans, Paul wants us to understand that this was the seemingly impossible thing. We never had any chance of redemption, except that God changed everything through Jesus. Verse 10 says, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life”(NRSV). If we have been made righteous through Christ’s death, then God has already done the impossible. When we think of what Jesus has already done for us, then of course we can trust that the Holy Spirit is going to keep on transforming us until we are truly “little Christs.” (That’s literally what “Christians” are.)

Sometimes, that spiritual transformation feels like growing pains. Read verses 3-5 again. Trouble (or suffering) produces endurance (or perseverance), which produces tried-and-true character, which produces hope. Think of the fruits of the Spirit. Specifically, let’s think about patience. We won’t become more patient by refusing to wait for anything! In order to find out if the Spirit has given us patience in the first place, we have to find ourselves in situations where we need to be patient. When someone keeps talking and we want to cut them off and share our ideas instead, we find out just how patient we are. When somebody cuts in front of us in the checkout line with three large transactions to make, we find out just how patient we are. And the trial gives us the opportunity to endure, and if we get through that stressful moment without losing our temper, then we can say that our patience is ‘tried and true.’

Widespread social isolation is not how I thought Lent would go this year, but here we are. There are going to be plenty of moments when we have the opportunity to endure and practice Christian behavior or give in to fear or anger or impatience or whatever reaction is tempting us. As Christians in a time of uncertainty, we are called to be people of tried-and-true character, living as we always do in the hope of God’s saving love for us.

That’s our calling, no matter how impossible it might feel in stressful times. But the truth is, these growing pains aren’t the impossible part. What’s impossible is that Jesus has saved us in the first place! If we are sure of Christ’s saving (Wesley would say justifying) grace, then let us behave as God’s people in the world, confident in the hope of the Spirit’s transformative power over our lives.

Living with It

(I know, I know, I disappear for weeks and then don’t post about pilgrimage at all. Maybe that’ll happen later. This is my Thursday afternoon response to the shooting on Wednesday.)

Living with It

It came in last night through my eyes. Not my ears; thankfully, the sound was muted on my newsfeed.

I couldn’t deal with it then, so I tried to put it away, and it hid in the knot in my neck.

When I woke up this morning, it was throbbing in the back of my head, but I didn’t remember what it was.

I tried to stop the throbbing with food and caffeine, but everything tasted bland, and the heart behind my right ear kept on beating—breaking.

Oh right, that’s why today feels wrong. I remember the image of the ash cross on a woman’s forehead as she held a girl’s body. I remember her awful grief and why I rushed to get it away from my eyes and out of my mind. But this time it won’t go back to my neck. It drops to my chest instead.

I drag it to worship with me. It stays in my chest but grows into my throat, and I cannot sing through the tears.

 

It’s not just the woman with the ashes on her forehead or the girl watching her best friend get shot down. It’s also the memory of the time I spent in the high school library with my friends one April 16th, praying we would not see any of their parents or siblings on the news. It’s the new normalcy of the Intruder Alert drill we learned the following year where we hid in closets and on floors while the teacher made it look like no one was in the classroom. It’s Pulse and Columbine and Emanuel in Charleston and Sixteenth Street in Birmingham. It’s the end of whatever sanctuary we once thought we could offer to our most vulnerable loved ones.

 

When the time comes to voice our prayers, my heart screams but my voice barely whispers:

 

What will it take, God? How many children must die? How many children must see their friends die? How many parents must live in this fear before enough people care to make it stop? Have you hardened our leaders’ hearts or did they do this to themselves? Why do we suffer while the wicked prosper? Do you care? Does anyone care?

Blessed be your name, I guess. You give and take away. I don’t understand how the world can hurt so much and an all-powerful God can do so little about it. I like thinking that you suffer with us, but I sincerely hope that doesn’t mean you, too, are frozen in a fetal position, sobbing while the world falls apart, powerless to stop us from destroying ourselves and the ones we love.

 

 

…My words fall away. It is still in my chest, tapping into the arteries that spread it throughout my body, but I think God has taken some of the weight of it to carry with me.

Long, long time ago…

(But I can still remember)* I started this blog after a life-changing pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland and Taizè, France. That journey, between my junior and senior years of undergrad, guided me to seminary.

I’ve just returned from another journey, this time between the fall and spring semesters of my final year of seminary. Once again, I got on a trans-Atlantic flight to Paris wondering what I would do with the rest of my life. Once again, upon my return, I turn to the internet to process all that has happened.

This time, the pilgrimage covered more ancient lands than Europe can boast. We traveled to Palestine and Israel and visited the towns where Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose from the dead. We touched the spots that people since the fourth century have revered as the sites of some important moments. Some locations are more confidently identified than others, but regardless, we spent a week walking through the land where the Word became flesh 2000 years ago.

But we didn’t spend the whole time walking around ruins. (Okay, we spent a LOT of time doing exactly that, but it’s still not all we did.) We also met the living stones, the Palestinian Christians–many of whose families have been Christian since basically Pentecost. We visited Christian schools and ate dinner with Christian families in Bethlehem…but I’m getting ahead of myself. This is just the “Hey I still exist and you’re about to get a lot of blog posts from me!” announcement.

Every experience is unique. I don’t know how many posts this trip will get before I have to set this venture aside and focus on my classes. I make no promises about depth or consistency. But the people I met on this journey told us to “Come and see; go and tell,” and I have stories I need to share, so I invite you to listen.

 

*Yes, older generations, I realize 2014 is not a long time ago. I like the song and this is a reasonably applicable scenario. (Also, thanks to jet lag, a mere two days currently feels like a very long time ago.)

Jesus is Coming: Love 7

December 24, 2016

Matthew 1:18-25

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.”


Tonight, we remember and celebrate Jesus’ birth. Why is that important?

Merciful God, thank you for sending Jesus to save us from our sins. Help us to live in Christ, sharing your peace and hope and joy and love with the world.

Jesus is Coming: Love 6

December 23, 2016

“The Risk of Birth” by Madeleine L’Engle

“This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor and truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Savior make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.”


How is Jesus’ birth a risk for God? As long as God is safely separate from our world, perhaps it would not be God’s problem if we make a mess of it. But God’s love is so great that Christ chose to become one of us!

Are there moments when God calls you to take a risk to share love? What does that look like?

Christ, thank you for becoming one of us so that we could know your love. Help us to love others the way you do.

Jesus is Coming: Love 5

December 22, 2016

“God speaks to the Soul” by Mechthild of Magdeburg

And God said to the soul:
I desired you before the world began.
I desire you now
As you desire me.
And where the desires of two come together
There love is perfected

How the soul speaks to God:
Lord, you are my lover,
My longing,
My flowing stream,
My sun,
And I am your reflection.

How God answers the soul:
It is my nature that makes me love you often,
For I am love itself.
It is my longing that makes me love you intensely,
For I yearn to be loved from the heart.
It is my eternity that makes me love you long,
For I have no end.


Mechthild was a German Christian mystic in the late thirteenth century. She wrote about her experiences of God in The Flowing Light of the Godhead. Today, we read a conversation between God and the human soul.

Can you imagine God talking to you like this?

How does this poem help you understand God’s love for us?

Dear God, help us to love you and to understand how much you love us.

Jesus is Coming: Love 4

December 21, 2016 

Saint Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul Ch. 11

“How shall I show my love is proved by deeds? Well – the little child will strew flowers…she will embalm the Divine Throne with their fragrance, will sing with silvery voice the canticle of love.

Yes, my Beloved, it is thus that my life’s brief day shall be spent before Thee. No other means have I of proving my love than to strew flowers; that is, to let no little sacrifice escape me, not a look, not a word, to avail of the very least actions and do them for Love.”


Therese became a devout Christian at the age of fourteen. She spent the next ten years doing all that she could to show God her love and to show the world God’s love. At the age of 24, she died of tuberculosis, but her autobiography continues to share her story with the world. Here, Therese talks about scattering flower petals as a way that she can worship God. Any little thing can be an act of love, depending on how we approach it.

What is something simple that you do all the time that you could use as a chance to pray or show God your love?

God, thank you for the everyday things in our lives. Help us to make those repetitive moments a chance to spend time with you.

Jesus is Coming: Love 3

December 20, 2016

Saint Syncletica of Alexandria

“Choose the meekness of Moses and you will find your heart, which is a rock, changed into a spring of water.”


Saint Syncletica was one of the Desert Mothers, early Christian mystics who believed that living far away from society would help them to grow closer to God. Syncletica gave everything she owned away and left Alexandria to live simply in a crypt. Many women who wanted to learn more about God came to her, and she taught them.

What are some ways that a heart could be a rock? (How can a heart be hardened? Pride, hatred, fear, something else?)

Depending on how a heart is hardened, it has to melt in different ways. How would a prideful heart melt? What about a hateful one or a fearful one? Can you think of other ways that a heart might melt?

Is your heart hard right now? If so, how can you ask God to melt it? If not, how can you make sure your heart does not become hard like a rock?

Loving God, fill our hearts with love so that it spills out of us like water bubbling up in a spring.

Jesus is Coming: Love 2

December 19, 2016

Hildegard of Bingen, from Scivias

“She is so bright and glorious that you cannot look at her face or her garments for the splendor with which she shines. For she is terrible with the terror of the avenging lightning, and gentle with the goodness of the bright sun; and both her terror and her gentleness are incomprehensible to humans…. But she is with everyone and in everyone, and so beautiful is her secret that no person can know the sweetness with which she sustains people, and spares them in inscrutable mercy.”


“O eterne deus” by Hildegard of Bingen

O Eternal God, now may it please you
to burn in love
so that we become the limbs
fashioned in the love you felt
when you begot your Son
at the first dawn
before all creation.
And consider this need which falls upon us,
take it from us for the sake of your Son,
and lead us to the joy of your salvation.


Hildegard of Bingen was a Christian mystic in the 1100s. She wrote many different kinds of writing, including poetry and music. Today’s first reading is a vision Hildegard had of God. The second is a poem describing God’s love for us in Christ.

Who is God to Hildegard? Who is God to you?

Dear God, thank you for loving us. Thank you for being present with us and showing us who you are.