Archive for March, 2012

March 28, 2012

Sabbath lately?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Sabbath keeping recently. Maybe because holy week is coming soon:  the busiest week of a pastor’s year, the time when bulletins after bulletins and services and services must be planned and planned some more.  Maybe because it is something that our household is trying to be better at after my husband ended up in the hospital on Monday morning due to exhaustion and  dehydration (a preventable condition if he’d just taken better care of himself the week before). Maybe it is just because it is a topic we seem to talk about a lot in the church, but rarely put into practice. 

Can I just say that sabbath frustrates me.  It is easier to be “good” at work than it is to be “good” at rest. No one is ever going to praise you for rest the same way they are of work. But, the longer any of us go without rest, our work will of course suffer. So, why not get the hint and embrace it? 

But, after all, as people of faith, Sabbath keeping is not a suggestion but a command.  Keep the Sabbath day holy . . .

So I ask myself and my congregation regularly: “How can we live into Sabbath more often?” And, by Sabbath, I don’t necessary mean one day (though one days of Sabbath are good), but a Sabbath filled life.

This is what I am noticing-

Sabbath finds me when I stop and listen to the voice that says, “Why are you in such a hurry?” 

Sabbath looks like turning off the radio in the car. Sabbath looks like not rushing out the door in the morning on the way to work; instead getting up early enough to just be. Sabbath looks like saying lots of “No’s” to meetings that just aren’t necessary. Sabbath looks like turning off the tv more often and reading a book just for fun. Sabbath looks like walking down the bakery aisle at the grocery store, just to smell the bread. Sabbath looks like finishing my sermon on Friday so Saturday is really a free day.

Sabbath looks a lot like a Mary Oliver poem.

“Just a minute,” said a voice…
By Mary Oliver

“Just a minute,” said a voice in the weeds.
So I stood still
in the day’s exquisite early morning light
and so I didn’t crush with my great feet
any small or unusual thing just happening to pass by
where I was passing by
on my way to the blueberry fields,
and maybe it was the toad
and maybe it was the June beetle
and maybe it was the pink and tender worm
who does his work without limbs or eyes
and does it well
or maybe it was the walking stick, still frail
and walking humbly by, looking for a tree,
or maybe, like Blake’s wondrous meeting, it was
the elves, carrying one of their own
on a rose-petal coffin away, away
into the deep grasses. After awhile
the quaintest voice said, “Thank you.” And then there was silence.
For the rest, I would keep you wondering.

So, what about you: experienced Sabbath lately? What has it looked like? Any surprises?

March 27, 2012

A New Relationship

Lenten Series– Promises in the Night:  A New Relationship

Jeremiah 31:32-34 with Mark 14: 66-72

Lent is a self-reflective time when we are asked to slow down and reconsider parts of our lives that we might just rush through at other times of the year.  

So, in the spirit of the season, I’d like to ask you this morning to reflect upon a few things with me just a minute. Consider a time in your life that you wish you could forget. This could be a time when you said something hurtful to a loved one, a time that you acted out in public in an embarrassing way, or even a long stretch of time when you rebelled and turned your back on all the good things in your life. If you were standing before God at the pearly gates right now, what are the moments of your life you wish that God would forget?


When I think about my life, I wish God would forget that day I ruined my father’s car by running over a cinder block (and wasn’t honest about it) just one week after getting my driver’s license.

I wish God would forget that day early in my marriage to Kevin that I was so angry I threw a shoe at him.

I wish God would forget the countless times I failed to love the Lord with all my heart, all my soul, and all my strength and to love my neighbor as myself.

I, like you, have many times that I wish just didn’t happen– that God would just forget.  

When we meet the apostle Peter, in the latest installment of Jesus’ dark night of the soul this day, we encounter him during a few moments in his life that I bet would be on his “I wish God would forget this” list too. Peter, does the unthinkable as Ken illustrated for us this morning as our worship began: he turns his back to his best friend.

And this is the scene: Jesus has just been arrested. He has been seized by the Pharisees and the chief priests and taken in for questioning. Peter follows Jesus to the courtyard of the house where the high priest held him. And though it appears that this will become his shining moment– being the only among the named 12 disciples who even follows Jesus after his arrest– such is not the case. No not at all.

When one of the maids, a young girl who served the high priest noticed Peter’s presence and remembered his face as one of the traveling companions of Jesus, she asks in verse 66: “You were with Jesus the Nazarene” weren’t you?

And though Peter should have said and could have said a simple “Yes. Yes, I was with him. Yes, I knew him.” , fear paralyzes Peter. He denies any connection to this man who had inevitably changed his life saying: “I neither know nor understand what you mean.”

What Peter? Are you serious Peter?  Yes, he was. He denied any knowledge of knowing Jesus.  It was going to cost him too much. Maybe they’d soon be arresting him as well. He couldn’t bear the thought of that.

So, as the young girl with a good memory– she just knows she recognizes  Peter as having been a friend of Jesus– asks the same question and again, again and again we get the same answer. He even goes as far to swear. “I do not know this man of whom you speak.”

And at that very moment, the cock crows for the second time to fulfill the prediction that Jesus had made of this “I wish I could forget it” moment of Peter’s life.  Peterremembers that the Lord had told him: “before the cock crows two times, you will deny me three times.”

It might have seemed at this juncture that all was lost for Peter and his relationship with Jesus. It might have seemed that Peter royally screwed up so bad that from that moment all would be lost. It might have seemed that Jesus would never speak to him again.  It might have seen that all of those years Peter prepared for this moment where all eyes were on him to make a confession were a complete waste.

In the same way, when we read the prophetic book of Jeremiah, we could easily be completely depressed too. Jeremiah affectionately known in modern times as the prophet who should have been on Prozac but wasn’t.  Scholars often called Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet”.

But, why? Commentator, Wil Gafney writes of the context of Jeremiah saying, “Jeremiah lived through the demise of his civilization when the Babylonians invaded Judah, assaulted Jerusalem, and reduced the temple to rubble, exiling, or killing the royal family, priests, prophets, and majority of the population.”[i] The nation of Israel turned their back on God’s plans for their nation. And thus, God allowed his beloved to experience the consequences of their own actions.  The nation was in exile. The temple was in ruins. Family members had died during the siege. There was certainly a lot to be sad and cry about.  It was a dark, dark night in the chapter of Israel’s history. It was a chapter, too, that I bet they’d wish that God would forget.

In particular when we read earlier in the book of Jeremiah, such as in chapter 5, we hear how bad things had gotten. Jeremiah was asked by God to tell the Israelites: “Announce this to the house of Jacob and proclaim it in Judah; Hear this you senseless people… [you] have stubborn and rebellious hearts…” Not exactly the warm fuzzies anyone would want to hear.

The nation of Israel, like Peter, rightfully shared guilt. They’d messed up. They could have assumed that the relationship and the shared history was over.

But,  the tune of verse 31 of Jeremiah chapter 31 tells a different story. “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and the people of Judah.”

I don’t know if you are like me, but when I mess up (and I know it!) there’s nothing more I want to do than bury my head in the couch for a while. Most certainly, I don’t want to hear of some new hopeful plan. Licking our wounds feels good for a while, doesn’t it? But, the Lord would have none of it.

Sure, Israel had messed up. Sure, they’d fallen short. Sure, they’d broken all of the covenants they made with God up Mount Sinai. They’d worshipped other gods. They’d had affairs. They’d not kept the Sabbath. They’d not welcomed the foreigner or blessed the stranger. It was grounds for divorce.

And so, because Israel had broken the covenant, God had EVERY reason to set them aside.  Israel had certainly checked all the boxes that were grounds for divorce. God kept God’s end of the deal, but Israel had not. God could walk away knowing God did all that could be done.  Certainly, God could try again with this “my chosen people” business with another group.

But, instead, a re-marriage ceremony is offered. God says to Israel verse 33:”This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time . . I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”

Stacy Simpson writes of this God we encounter in Jeremiah saying, ” In the evangelical tradition in which I grew up, we spoke of “letting Jesus into our hearts.” He stood there patiently and knocked, waiting as long as it took, and when we were ready, we swung the door open and invited him in. But, the God of Jeremiah will have none of that. This God has grown weary of people’s inability to keep his law. No more will the covenant be written in stone, a covenant which was external and could be broken. Instead . .. God says “I will write it on their heart.” The heart of the entire people will bear the covenant.”[ii]

God takes an active role in restoring the broken relationship. Which is another way of God going to marriage counseling with Israel saying, “Let’s start over. Because I want to make a new relationship with you.”

But, how could God do this? Doesn’t God remember all the pain of heartache, rejection and loss? Doesn’t God know that if he works toward reconciliation that it all might go sour again?

Such is why the final verse of promise is important. Look with me at verse 34 as the Lord says, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

This new relationship was based on 100% forgiveness. To move forward and to have a chance of the coming of the new– the past needed to be forgotten. And, God makes this move.

How many times in relation to the topic of “forgiveness” have you heard the phrase, “forgive and forget?” And I think as equally number of times that this phrase is spoken aloud, thoughts of those who hear it also think, “I cannot forget. Maybe I can forgive, but forget is something I can’t do.”

For there’s something about the human brain, isn’t it that just wants to hold on to things, especially the unfavorable stuff.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we sat around a coffee table and recounted all of the negative things family members, classmates or even perfect strangers said to us at one point in our lives. And it was easy to make the list long. And if you were to make a list too, I’m sure you could without difficulty make one.

There was that time in the 4th grade that one of the well-liked, well-dressed girls told you that you were fat and your teeth were crooked. You’ve never felt the same about your body since.

There was that time in college when you rushed for a fraternity only to not make the cut because you family name didn’t have enough money associated with it. You’ve been trying to make as much money as you can with your chosen career ever since.

There was that Christmas holiday when who you thought was your favorite aunt came over and found fault with all your home’s decor. You’ve been afraid to host a family gathering since.

And there was that time you expressed interest in painting and began creating beautiful pallets of color and texture and a friend walked into your studio said, “Well maybe in 10 years you’ll find some talent.” You’ve put down the brush ever since. 

No matter what your  “there was this time” story is, I think it is safe to say that we all have them. We all have times in our lives that something has been said to us or about us that we’d wish we could forget.

So what good news this is to all of our ears– what a promise in the night God’s gift of a new relationship can be!

For just as we mess up, as the nation of Israel did time and time again, and just as Peter denied Jesus on a night when it mattered the most, we worship a God who promises us a new start.

But not just  any old new start. A new start where those chapters in our lives that we most want to forget are forgotten, but also the painful wounds imposed on us by others can also be forgiven. We are not God of course,  so we probably are never going to be able to forget the ill that has been done and said against us, especially those deeply traumatic memories. But, we take heart and remember that  God can do what we can’t. God can forget so we can live. And, as beloved children of the heavenly parent, we too have words of this covenant are written on our hearts– so no matter what, we’ll never be left alone. We have a sign of God’s relationship always with us. There is nothing we could ever do that would not keep God’s love from us. Nothing.

So in light of this, and in response to this sermon today, I want you to find a comfortable seated position where you are right now for a moment of meditation. Clear everything off your lap and place both feet on the bottom of the floor.  And, close your eyes and take your hands and place them at the center of your lap with your palms facing open.  And right now, I want you to call to mind the two things that we talked about in the sermon for this morning.

1. Something you’d done in your life that you’d wish God would forget.

2. Something someone has done to you that you wish you could forget.

And in the quietness of this moment, I want you to imagine that you are holding both of these somethings in your hands. Holding them tight by balling up your fists with them in it. One in one hand and one in another.

Now, as I re-read the passage for this morning– Jeremiah’s promise in the night, I invite you to listening closely. And, as you listen imagine these somethings being released. Of letting them go, as you are able, why? because in grace, God has already forgotten.[iii]

31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Thanks be to God who makes all things new!


[i] “Lectionary for October 17, 2010: Jeremiah 31:27-34” Working Preacher.

[ii] “Branded by God” The Christian Century

[iii] Thanks to David Lose of Working Preaching.Com for this idea.

March 24, 2012

Book Review Week: Unorthodox

Though growing up in my sheltered Christian home, I thought my type of Christians were the only weird ones. But, it’s not true. Fundamentalists are found in every religious tradition.

When asking a friend recently about what books she was reading and what she might recommend I pick up, she offered a work of a new author, Deborah Feldman called Unorthodox: the Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots. She offered, “It’s like the Jewish version of your life.” Intrigued, I sound found a copy and this memoir became one of those narratives I became glued to until I finished it in a couple of days.

I didn’t read any reviews before beginning to read, so I have to say that the book turned out to be not what I expected. I thought it might be a memoir of escape, how Deborah gained strength to leave behind her family and Hasidic culture. But instead, the “escape” portion of the book is slim. The main event of this memoir comes in the journey of growing up that Deborah takes us on.

I was delightfully surprised though at what an all-encompassing view Deborah gave of what it is really like to grow up as a Haisdic Jew in New York City. We follow her from the days of her bewildering childhood, being raised by her grandparents as a child of a mother who ran away and a father without the mental capacity for child rearing.  As much as Deborah tries to fit in and be a “good girl,” one her especially religious grandfather will approve of, slowly we as readers see her transformation. We see the joy that come s to her from sneaking library books under her mattress. We see the joy that comes as she thinks independently. We see the joy that comes as she makes friends in high school who are also experimenting with the outside world like her. We realize that such a huge cultural shift of being in a place to leave her Hasidic roots behind comes not from a rash decision one day, but from a lifetime of testing the waters, bucking the system in small ways and a slow process of imagining her life lived as a Jew but in freedom from oppression.

And while my friend who recommended this book suggested that Unorthodox was like my life, it wasn’t really. While I was taught a strict, paternalistic view of the holy scriptures and to guard my heart from the “wilds” of secular culture too, I still was able to dress as I choose (except on Sunday– always dresses!), visit public libraries and interact with people outside my culture. Thank God to all of this!

But, as I read, I could help but think of what the Christian comparison might be to Feldman’s story. The Dugger family of the hit TLC show, 19 Kids and Counting came to mind. For these kids are raised via homeschooled education, uniforms of long skirts for the girls and modesty for all (including those ridiculous bathing suits), no tv or exposed to culture without a particular Christian message get the parents pre-approve of. The older kids are not encouraged to go to college and to expand their mind with knowledge their parents have not approved of first. Instead, they (especially the girls) are put on a track toward courtship and marriage (like in orthodox Jewish culture) so that as many babies could be created from the new unions soon. Why? So that the earth may be populated with more of “their kind.”

I have to say that fundamentalism not matter what religious tradition it comes in scares me. Is this what faith is all about? Keeping a bunch of rules? Feeling pure of outside influence? Separatism?

I am so happy to be a part of a Christian tradition that often exclaims, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!’

I say three cheers to Deborah Feldman for getting out and courageously telling her story! I wonder when the one of the Dugger children (or the like) will begin to write their own memoir like this one. I’m sure it is coming some day. I already can’t wait to read it too! These are the stories we need to hear more of, for sure!

March 21, 2012

Book Review Week: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts

Are you sensing a theme? I love non-fiction. So, up today is another memoir that I recently stumbled upon when browsing a bookstore: Neil White’s tale of his prison experience alongside a leper colony in Carville, Louisiana. I’ve always been fascinated memoirs, letters or other writings made by folks in prison as it usually describes a time in people’s lives when they get to the heart of what it means to live, breathe and be a human being.  It’s cut to the chase kind of literature.

And in this case, Neil White was sentenced to 18 months for bank fraud. White lived for many years pretending if the rules of finance didn’t apply to him all in hopes of making it to the top of his field. White craved praise, attention and success.

When I first began reading In the Sanctuary of Outcasts , I thought I might be soon disappointed in my book purchase. In nearly the entire first section of the book, White writes with an arrogant, self-obsessed, “I’m really not a criminal like the rest of them” attitude. He even tells his two small children as he was dropped off at the prison, “Daddy is going to camp” instead of the truth.

I was temped on several occasions to simply stop reading because the main character put such a distaste in my mouth.  Who cared that the writing was so good? (It was!). I really didn’t want to spend my free time learning more about him.

But all of this began to change as White got to know some of the persons struggling with Hansen’s disease (or known as leprosy) who lived in this same compound of this low security prison, in particular Ella. Ella, a patient not a prisoner, spent her whole life at Carville, even after the federal mandate no longer required her to stay in isolation. And from Ella and other patients and inmates, White learns to tell the truth. White learns what community is like. He learns to say: “I did some not so very good things. I hurt myself. I hurt my family.” And to his surprise, he finds acceptance. It’s quite the journey! Consider this quotation:

“As I walked –“meddling’, as Ella would say- I found no simple answers. But I did find something else. The very act of being honest with myself, taking an object look at my life, was freeing….I still did not know exactly how to change, but I had discovered some simple truths: A good life with my children did not require wealth. It was vital to be honest, without worrying about my own image. And helping others was more noble than winning awards.” (212-213)

I would recommend this pick for anyone interested in a transformation story, any preacher or teacher of the Bible– as it is a great tool to understand the modern connection of leprosy, or anyone wanting to explore the justice (or injustice of) the prison system. I’m sure the next time I preach on a text with leprosy mentioned within, I’ll pick up In the Sanctuary of Outcasts and find a great illustration.

Up tomorrow: Unorthodox: the Scandous Rejection of My Hasdic Roots by Debroah Fieldman

March 20, 2012

Book Review Week: Traveling with Pomegrantes

“I realize what a strange in-between place I am in. The Young Woman inside has turned to go, but the Old Woman has not shown up.”
― Sue Monk Kidd

“I’ve tried to shield myself from life and inhabit my own small, safe corner; but there’s no immunity from life.”
― Ann Kidd Taylor

“I realize I’m trying to work out the boundaries. How to love her without interfering. How to step back and let her have her private world and yet still be an intimate part of it. When she talks about her feelings, I have to consciously tell myself she wants me to receive them, not fix them.”
― Sue Monk Kidd

Such were some of my favorite quotes from the book I finished about a month ago called Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story. Traveling is a book that gives its readers a snapshot into the relationship shared between Sue, the mother in her early 50s and Ann the daughter a recent college as they both navigate through life transitions. And as they do so, figure out what the next step of their relationship with one another might be as well.

I was first introduced to the author Sue Monk Kidd almost 10 years ago during a time in my life when my theology was in transition. A friend passed along the book, Dance of the Dissent Daughter. It was a time in my life I really had no idea what feminist theology was all about. At that time, reading this text opened my eyes to many of the oppressive male imagery in scripture and in Christian tradition. This book became a conversation tool, among many others, that helped me say “yes” to the serious study awaiting me in seminary. I wanted to figure out how female images of the divine fit into (or not) what I had already been taught about God.

So, being a fan, I was eager to see what Sue Monk Kidd”s latest memoir had in store for its readers, but this time with chapters from her daughter, Ann. And though the book felt emotionally intense at times (as if you are literally reading their journals), with breaks for thought and reflection, I paged through it quickly and soon passed my copy on to a friend.  As a budding writer myself, I appreciated the call story both Sue and Ann experienced in their travels to write and the call to write together. Their journey of renegotiating boundaries, passion, relationships and hope read very authentically to me. I believe the experiences of many women are found in these pages– just with different details. And, I left my experience of reading it as any good book does– as if I’d made new friends that I hoped would share more of their story with me one day.

Most of all Traveling with Pomegranates made me think about these bigger picture things:

1. The desire in all of us for deeper relationship with “mother” and “daughter” figures in our lives as women. We are never too old to want a mother or a daughter in our lives.

2. The importance of shared wisdom passed on between the generations even as differing of perspectives make it hard for us to relate sometimes.

3. The joy that rises from the gift of travel. Sometimes it takes us getting out of our normal environment to really see our lives as they really are.

4. Doing with your life what is a “necessary fire” within us, not just what pays the bills.

5. Courage to not just do things the way they’ve always been done. Who says we are not the one to blaze a new trail?

6. The difficulty we all have of saying “no” when this “no” comes at the cost of what others expected from us. We are pleasing creatures. But if want our soul to live, we must break free of the obligations and the shoulds.

7. Writing takes time and drafting and more drafting as well as being with other writers.  The more you get into writing, the more you realize you the only way to get better is to write more. And some more.

Anyone else read this text and want to chat about it?

Next up tomorrow:  In the Santuary of Outcasts by Neil White

March 19, 2012

Book Review Week: Bless Her Heart

I don’t know if it is my new addiction to the Kindle app on my IPad or just the season of spring, but I’ve been on a reading kick lately of some really wonderful titles that I think many of you, blog readers, might like too. So, I’ve decided to devote the next five days to informal book reviews and reflections.

And first up today is a newer release especially for those of you who are young clergy women or want to know a young clergy woman in your life a little bit better. Bless Your Heart: Life as a Young Clergy Woman by Ashley-Anne Masters and Stacy Smith is a e-book I downloaded and completed over the weekend.

I’d remembered fellow female clergy, especially friends from the Young Women’s Clergy Project, excitedly promoting this title when it came out more than a year ago. A colleague’s Facebook status read of her enthusiastic praise of the text saying something like, “Finally there is a book about someone who understands me!” So, I sat down to see what all the hype was about.

I was a little disappointed in the style of the book– all stories came in the first person but we never knew who “I” was. (And so, I had trouble following if the stories shared were of the authors or of other clergy they interviewed said). And, really felt like the scripture sections of the chapters were a big too simplistic for the topics. But, overall, I am glad this book was written and I’m so thankful to the authors for taking up this task.

I couldn’t help but recall as I read, several of my own stories about clothing, dating and what it means to have a social life as young clergy woman. And with each recollection, this book helped me grow in gratitude for my own journey. Though there have been hard times of misunderstandings, lack of respect and “How in the world could YOU be the pastor?” I know I’m in exactly the right vocation.

No matter how times have changed, almost all of us female clergy, like Smith and Masters write, have stories about comments on “inappropriate shoes,” “not being in the office long enough to the tastes of the secretaries” or “honey, you are as cute as my granddaughter.” This book read to me like a testimony that while we as young clergy women might have different tastes in footwear, Sabbath keeping or hair color than our male or even older female colleagues, we still are clergy, gifted and eager to learn as we serve. So many of the stories told within speak to a growing edge in young women must climb in their efforts to claim their authority, exude confidence and individual style in a religious world that wants us to conform, and balance family and work roles. We all are a work in progress, no matter our age or gender!

I also became grateful because of how much less “green” I feel now in my soon to be 6th year of ordained ministry.  I have grown much over these past six years, especially during my tenure at Washington Plaza, a place where I have been lovingly supported by church leadership, given opportunities to experiment, and always taken seriously as a spiritual leader (no matter my age). 

If there is anything I would want to share with my young clergy women sisters after reading Bless Your Heart, it would be, keep going. This is what I know: it will get better. Not necessarily better because societal attitudes about young clergy change, or all senior pastors suddenly become instantly supportive of maternity or family leave or that because all young clergywomen who want jobs find them. But as we stick around the ministerial life, we change. Our voice becomes stronger. Our focus becomes clearer. And our ability to let go “all of those stupid things” people say to us quickens. No matter what kind of ministry space we find ourselves in, we know who we are and we know who we serve and who we don’t! So the next time an elder says to us “Bless your heart” we smile with our hands held high and say back “bless yours too!”

Next up: Traveling with Pomograntes by Sue Monk Kidd

March 18, 2012

I am the Lord

Promise in the Night Lenten Series: I am the Lord

Isaiah 43:1-7 with Mark 14:43-46, 53-62

This morning as we begin our conversation together about this week’s promise in the night– Jesus saying to us, “I am Lord.” I think it might be good if you are willing to work with me here for us to take a time out and talk to each other before I get into the main ideas of what I would like to share with you. So this is what I need you to do. Make sure you are sitting next to somebody. No one is allowed to sit in a pew by themselves. If you are a guest visiting with us, know that our church is quite informal and friendly (like I hope you’ve experienced already today), so we welcome you to participate in this discussion with us too.

And this is what I want you to share as you feel comfortable with one another: “Who is Jesus? And what does Jesus mean to you?” Share your answer to this question in a small group of 2 or 3 sitting close beside you. If there is anything I know about Washington Plaza, it is that you don’t have trouble being honest with one another, especially when it comes to matters of faith. So, in this spirit of “there is no wrong answer” I invite you to share with one another right now, “Who is Jesus? And what does Jesus mean to you?” (SHARING)

I hope that as you shared with your neighbors, you learned something about them that maybe you didn’t know before. . .  The question of “Who is Jesus?” is central to the gospel passage we find ourselves in this morning. For, just as we have been preparing for the past two Sundays as we read of the plot Judas set into motion to turn Jesus over to the chief priests, at this juncture of Mark 14 starting with verse 53, it is all happening.

 The elders of the religious councils have come to Jesus with swords and cubs and have taken Jesus into custody. And though there seems to be little credible evidence against him, with everything said against him appearing to be hearsay, Jesus is put on trial. In this trial, he is accused of the most serious of religious crimes at the time. He says he’s the Son of God.

Look with me at Jesus’ exact response in verse 62 of Mark 14. After Jesus was asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed one?” He responds by saying, “I am . .. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

If Jesus wanted to beat around the bush and speak in politically correct language of the time, this was not the way to go. In a culture that held so much respect for the name of God— not even writing out all the letters when putting God’s name on paper– saying that you were “the Christ” was heresy.

Let me be clear here when I say, that it is this very confession: “I am the Christ” that led to his death.

Though centuries of strained Christian/ Jewish relations and a lot of Judas haters out there who want to place the blame on a the Jewish people as a whole or on the one bad apple disciple– these players in the drama played minor, very minor roles in the larger drama of what God was doing in the life of Jesus.

Because in the end, Jesus came to this dreadful juncture of his life for one simple reason. He said he was Lord. This dark night was ALL about Jesus’ Lordship. The chief priests, the whole Sanhedrin council and Judas for that matter were simply players in the story (and the players could have been anybody) who helped to illuminate this truth: Jesus was Lord.

Can you imagine how dark this night of betrayal, arrest, and interrogation must have been for Jesus?

Can you imagine how lonely he must have been?

Can you imagine how abandoned Jesus must have felt by those he trusted the most?

Can you imagine how Jesus’ human nature desperately wanted to call upon the bands and bands of angels and archangels and strike down all who sought to speak wrongly of him?   But at the same time,  his heart burst in compassion for those misguided in truth?  What a conflicted, hurt and deserted place Jesus was in!

Where was the hope? Where was the promise for the night? Where was the light?

If we turn over to our Old Testament lection for today, what we find are words of comfort for a group of people, who like Jesus, found themselves in an unfortunate situation.  All was not right with their world either.

The children of Israel lived in Babylon in exile, and had lived there for a very long time. The prophet exhorts them: soon they’d be asked to go back to their homeland, even as they’d grown quite comfortable in this foreign country. They’d be asked to deal with the ways in which they’d fallen short of God’s best for them. They’d have to face up to their own darkness, the blindness of their own hearts. And, they’d be forced to make changes for the journey that awaited them. 

And while the word of the Lord could have been harsh and accusatory, it’s not the promise we hear as chapter 43 of Isaiah opens. For the promise begins in the shift of how the Israelites were addressed: “BUT NOW, thus says the Lord, he  created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

And what follows are some of the most beautiful words of comfort in scripture– words that I wrote down and put on the wall of my bedroom as a teenager to get me through some difficult times– words that I often read now at every funeral I preach in an effort to speak words of comfort to mourners– words that speak of God’s promise to walk with us even in the darkness of dark nights.

Look with me at verse two: the Lord says, “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”  WHY? Because we are told, “For I am the Lord your God.”

Such is a promise full of dramatic metaphors which illustrate God’s promise to walk with us no matter what situations we find ourselves in.

What is most interesting to me about this passage is what it doesn’t say about the journey of faith.

It doesn’t say that we won’t pass through rivers. It doesn’t say that we won’t walk through fires. It doesn’t say that flames won’t get anywhere near us. Though most of us would like to assume that if we just try hard and love well and live the best life we can that life’s darkness nights won’t find us, Isaiah’s promise of prophecy does not guarantee us this at all. In fact, if we have found ourselves deep in rivers or in the middle of fires, or feeling as though our lives are going to crumble at any moment, then we are in good company. We are well acquainted with what it means to be a human being– just as Jesus experienced on his dark night too.

But even though our lives are full of troubles and there will be moments when the nights of winter seem long and unending– we receive a hopeful promise. Jesus is Lord.

And not just any Lord– a word that might be scary to our independent sentiments of a society. But a Lord who loves us unconditionally, a Lord who pledges to be in our lives no matter what, a Lord who holds out joy for us when it seems to be the emotion we fear we’ll never experience again.

Look with me at verse four, “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you , I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.”

It’s a love letter for a particular people, a love letter from a God who wants to show forth the light of the good news. I am the Lord.

I don’t know where you are in your journey of faith this day– believer growing, eager to go deeper in your faith, skeptic standing on the sidelines not ready to say you believe in this Jesus story yet, or somewhere in between, but I dare say wherever we find ourselves this morning, we’ve ALL had experiences where we’ve experienced God’s presence with us, especially in difficult times.  (For it seems our awareness of God seems to be softened to receive most memorably when we hit a place of helplessness, lostness, or even feeling as though our lives are so bad “that there’s no place to go but up.”)

For me, one such time when I felt God’s presence with me came when I was on my first trip out of the country to Africa as a freshman in college. Alone, I traveled to spend three weeks with some missionary friends of our family. Eager to experience the culture of some new nations and to be with folks I thought at the time were some of “God’s best people on earth” (i.e. the American missionaries) I boarded the plane and set out for what I thought would be a life-changing adventure.

However, the trip turned out completely not as I expected. These missionaries, I admired from afar, turned out not to be the welcoming bunch I hoped they’d be– to me a young adult hoping to follow in their footsteps one day. None of them really seemed to care to get to know me at all. The missionaries were among some of the most rude, selfish-centered and arrogant people I’d ever met. You could imagine how crushed I was. All my dreams for a career in international service felt ruined. There was no way I’d want to work in a community like this! What in the world, was I then going to do with my life? And did I even want to follow this God?

But, in spite of the unfortunate turn of events, grace found me. This grace came from two women, whom I don’t even remember their names anymore who I worked alongside as I taught at Bible camp during one of the weeks I spent with the American missionaries. These two women, from the US like me, but in particular, came with the purpose solely of teaching some of the missionary’s kids while their parents sat in meetings. And, I have to say, if I ever met an angel on earth, I know it was these two women, who said they were from Alabama. They nurtured me, welcomed me to teach with them and showed me through their actions that I was not as alone as I felt at the time. God spoke through me and my broken spirit at the time to say, “I am the Lord; and it is going to be ok.” I don’t know if I would have made it back home in one piece if it weren’t for these two women.

In the same way, one of the things I hear most often from you, even those of you who still have great doubts about your faith and wonder if you are a Christian at all, is that you’ve experienced God’s presence in dark times of your life. You’ve had experiences where you’ve encountered this promise in the night of “Fear not, for I am with you.” You’ve received comfort from something you can’t explain in rational terms. You’ve experienced what you can only call the divine. And these are moments that we remember.

But the thing is that though many of these experiences are impactful in the moment, our memory as a human race is short. How quick we are to forget! How quick we are to doubt! How quick we are to throw up our hands in disgust, wondering why we find ourselves drowning in rivers again, feeling as though we have no life-preserver to help get ourselves to shore!

Such is why today’s promise in the night is so important. Jesus is Lord. For in fact it is the promise, if we remember nothing, I mean absolutely nothing else about the Christian life, it is the promise we need. Because knowing and believing that Jesus is Lord changes EVERYTHING about our personal lives, about our life together as a church and about our outlook for the future.

And because Jesus is Lord as we walk this journey in community, everything begins to look different. We get out of our pettiness, our focus completely on ourselves, and we look up to the one who is the Lord.

When we are figuring out who is bringing what for coffee teams on Sunday morning and how to clean the tables, we remember: “Jesus is Lord.”

When we are choosing what color to paint our walls in our bedroom with our spouse and really want to strangle him or her for their tacky taste, we remember: “Jesus is Lord.”

When we are deciding if we will buy just one more thing at the mall or make our pledge to the church- we remember: “Jesus is Lord.”

When we find ourselves bickering and then not speaking to a dear friend for weeks– we remember: “Jesus is Lord.”

When quick fire backs of anger seem more enticing than going the extra mile in life– we remember: “Jesus is Lord”

When folks slander us, speak ill of us for reasons we know are untrue – we remember: “Jesus is Lord”

And, most of all when we find ourselves in bleak situations when we wonder how in the world we are going to get out of bed and face another day, we remember what? “Jesus is Lord.”

For this promise in the night or in the day or in the in between can make all the difference in our lives my friends. For when we get out of the framework of this life is about me, me, and more just me, we realize that though the road of following the Lord may be rocky and though the journey may be long, we have this larger truth in which to cling. And what is it? Jesus is Lord.


March 16, 2012

Living in Lent

Lent is already half-way over and is anyone dragging like me? The days of self-reflection and self-discipline seem like too much at junctures like today when I’m ready to throw in the towel and just say, “What’s the point?”

I haven’t been able to keep a Lenten discipline for several years now, but I’m hoping this year will be different. Not just for the sake of saying I’ve kept it, but because I know it is good for me. Really good in fact.

For the past couple Lents, I’ve pledged to start something new like adding more exercise into my life, and have found myself failing miserably.  While the guilt of not doing what I said seemed to nag deeply in me, nothing changed. I’ve not be a great example maker in the practice of being self-focused during this 40 day (or 46 day if you count the Sundays) period of preparation of Easter.

But, feeling some new gusto this year, I opted to go back to the traditional “give something up” practice for Lent again. As I thought of what I might choose to do, I tried to be more intentional than in the past. What impulsive habit could I give up? What could I withhold that might actually make me think about the larger purpose of Lent altogether?

I chose to give up Diet Coke.

Seems simple enough, of course. Almost comparable to the popular “I’m giving up chocolate” for Lent idea.  But, for me, it’s not. 

Giving up Diet Coke, as a non-coffee drinker, is helping me understand how dependant I was on caffeine to get through the day. Giving up Diet Coke is helping me make more intentional choices altogether with my eating. Giving up Diet Coke, I know is making my kidneys happy with me as my water consumption has hit a life-time high since Lent began. Today I am really craving soda I’m tired of drinking water ALL the time. I really can’t wait for Lent to be over. I’m ready for the “normal” patterns of life and enjoyment to return.

But for those of us on  this Lenten journey together as a people of faith, we’re not to the finish line yet. Palm Sunday is still more two weeks away. Now is the time when the “joy” of the discipline really kicks in. What might this season be seekign to teach us?

Of course, living in Lent is greater than drinking or not drinking soda, giving up chocolate or fasting on Fridays– it is about Jesus and spending this set a part time growing closer to him. I always tell my congregation who about this time start asking for “more joyful music” or “less depressing scriptures” that we must stay the course if we want the joy of Easter to be ours.

For this reason, I appreciate the wisdom of this word from the current pope– though I may disagree with him on many social issues– I hear such grace in this description of the season:

“Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and in this way to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, what path we must take in life… Each year, Lent offers us a providential opportunity to deepen the meaning and value of our Christian lives, and it stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters.” – Pope Benedict XVI

So, as we all keep living Lent– even if we’ve already fallen off the discipline wagon and are preparing to get back on– let seek truth with the time of Lent we have left. Truth about ourselves and ultimately truth then about God. I know it will all be worth it soon enough!

March 11, 2012

There’s More!

Promises in the Night Lent Series:

There’s More!

Genesis 17:1-17, 15-16 with Mark 14:22-26

Ever finish a meal and find yourself asking, “There’s got to be more; I’m still hungry.” Or, ever come to the end of a vacation and say to whoever you are traveling with, “There’s got to be more; I’m not ready to come home yet?” Or, ever find yourself watching the credits of a movie and say, “There’s got to be more; that can’t be the ending!”

Several weeks ago on the morning of my birthday, I experienced one of these, “there’s got to be more” moments as Kevin gave me my gift. After parading in the house the night before my birthday with lots of “You can’t ask me where I’ve been” and “You can’t look in this big bag I just brought in” my expectation level was raised higher than normal. I woke up even wondering what could be in the huge bag that sat in the middle of the living room floor. Certainly, I thought, Kevin had out done himself and I would be receiving a really great gift this year!

After finishing breakfast quickly, Kevin asked, “Ready for your gift?”

I said: “Of course!” I and sat on the couch waiting to be presented with the bag I’d seen the night before. As I began to tear into the  tissue paper that sat on top, I discovered two wrapped items. The first was a metal stand for firewood. And, the second box contained fire poking set, also for the fireplace in our living room. Nothing else seemed to appear in the bag.

Fearing we’d had one of those “husband buys a wife a gift that the husband really wants” moments, I soon objected, even though I’m sure I sounded completely unappreciative of the gesture of his remembering my birthday. I have to admit, I was quite blunt:”You got me a fire poker and a wood holder for my birthday? What were you thinking??”

Kevin just smiled and said, “You’ve been talking how much we need tools for fire building, I’d thought you’d like it.” But he smiled with the grin that he didn’t fear going to the marriage dog house soon . . . which I thought was weird. Didn’t my tone of voice convey that I was disappointed?

I complained too soon! Thank goodness Kevin didn’t follow the wisdom of what James Allan once said: “The very fact that you are a complainer, shows that you deserve your lot.”

“Quick” he added, “look at the bottom of the bag under the extra layer of paper. There’s more!”  And to my surprise at the bottom of the bag was in fact my real present– an IPad, an amazing gift, better than I could have ever imagined.  It turns out that the fire set was all a joke and I fell for the trap almost line by line as Kevin imagined.

In our Old Testament promise text for this morning, we read of another encounter of similar laughable proportions where two characters were asked to think differently about their expectations, realizing that God longed to give them more.

When we meet Abram and Sarai in Genesis 17 as God begins to speak to this couple saying in verse  one of our text, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you and will make you exceedingly numerous” it’s not the first time that we read of language of promise directed toward this family. In fact, when Abram first enters the Bible in Genesis chapter twelve, we hear God asking him to set out on this unknown journey of leaving his home and journeying to a place that God would show him. And, at this moment, Abram was also told about ancestors of his being numerous.  “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you.”

But other than protection and guidance for the journey, this “I will bless you” plan of the Lord’s did not seem to be working out. Abram and Sarai had no children. And, without children it was going to be hard for their descendants to be great and numerous because they didn’t have any!

So, we read in Genesis 16 that Sarai took matters into her own hands, figuring that because of her advanced age God didn’t really want to use her in the plan after all. I can’t imagine the pain, the rejection and disdain she must have felt toward God as she gave her maidservant, Hagar to spend the night with Abram.  Because if it were for Abram’s God and all this promise business, she could have kept Abram all to herself. The childless couple could have willed their estate to their head servant without any shared nights in one another’s bedrooms being involved. I can imagine Sarai angry at the world she found herself in– deeply in fact!

So, while it was fine and good that God called out this family, especially choosing them for the adventure of  going to the “promise land”– by chapter 17 this experience had not turned out like they expected. I’m sure both Abram and Sarai went to bed each night wondering, “what went wrong?” Because they must have heard wrong from the Lord. For this was not the broken pieces kind of life that either of them hoped they’d have. Nomad wanderers far from their hometown, childless, but yet with a son birthed for them from a slave.

I can’t imagine Abram or Sarai having the strength to ask for anything else, to ask for more or even hope that there was more. For, beaten down– sitting in the darkness– without hope for the impossible dream of parenting together and just stability in their lives to come true.  There was sadness in both of them, especially Sarai that just couldn’t go away.

But, even in the darkness a promise comes– and this promise is “There’s More.”

Look with me at verse 4, God says, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. . . . I  will make your exceedingly fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.”

“So Abram, you think that I’ve forgotten you?” God says, ” You think that this desire that you have buried deep within you to have a child with your wife is dead, gone and long past?  Think again. Hear me again. You will be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. It is your promise for the night.”

Just as God said last week to Noah and the crew gathered around the ark– I will remember you– God saying to Abram, “Hang with me here. Keep walking with me. Keep moving. Why? Because there is more a comin’!”

I don’t know if you are like me, but when someone makes me a promise or says they are going to do something for me, I’d like a sign. Even if it is just a handshake, even if it is just a confirmation email, even if it is just a piece of paper with my name and theirs on it– documentation is always good for peace of mind and sleep at night, in particularly difficult situations.

And such was the case with Abram and Sarai too. They needed a sign of this promise. Ishmael, Hagar’s son after all is 13 years old by now! If I were Sarai or Abram and God still wants to promise our family “father of many nations” business, then, I might have wanted to tell God just to leave me alone. Let me be. But, if you insist God on saying this promise again, then I’ll need more…

And the “more” proof, the sign that this family received was a name change.

Abram is told that he will be called Abraham from this point forward and Sarai is told that she would be called Sarah.  Abraham is a name meaning, “ancestor of multitudes” while Sarah translates “princess.”  Not only would they have words of promise to speak of a change coming, but they would embody the transformation.

Most notable is Sarah’s new role.

Previous to chapter 17 when God spoke it was all about Abram. And because of this, it would have been easy to assume, for Sarah did that God didn’t need her, that she wasn’t important. But, everything changes in verses 15 and 16. Look with me in what God says about Sarah, “I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her.” 

Sarah’s soon-to-be announced pregnancy would become an experience of co-creating with God.

But not only this, God would change too. God would show in this covenant making progress more of the divine character– more than anyone had ever seen before!

Baptist Hebrew Bible scholar Dr. Tony Cartledge says this, about what we are learning about God: “For the first time in the Hebrew text, God is referred to not as Elohim or Yahweh, but with the Hebrew name El Shaddai.” This is the only time in the book of Genesis that El Shaddai is used to speak of God– which is our sign to pay attention!

Dr. Cartledge goes on to write of El Shaddai, “While translators have commonly translated El Shaddai, God’s name, as “Almighty God” or “All Powerful One,” God’s name change to El Shaddai has more to do with fertility. The words in God’s new name most clearly relate to the Hebrew word Shaddaim, the plural form of the word for the female breast.”

 And with this name change, it’s as if God is saying: “We’re in relationship. I will be your God—your fertility God who gives you what you desperately need. And you, Abraham and Sarah . . . you will be parents of a whole new nation.” It was a covenant promise of unprecedented before and unprecedented since proportions.

Such reminds me of the hope that came in Jesus’ words from Mark 14 when he broke bread and said, “take and eat; this is my body” and when he lifted up the cup and said, “This is the blood of the covenant poured out for many.”

Jesus too, in the midst of this dark night– as we talked about the betrayal of Judas last Sunday– shared with his disciples about the something more that was coming as well. And though they did not understand and though they too must have thought that Jesus was crazy for speaking like this, a promise of NEW covenant is made.  My disciples, Jesus says, “I’m going to keep renewing and renewing again my promise to show you more and more and more of myself each time you eat of this meal.”

It’s a promise in the night that no matter how dark the next couple of days might be, no matter how lost the disciples would soon feel , they’d always have the signs of this new covenant given at this meal. They’d always have the loaf of bread and cup to come back to and taste and drink of the “MORE” or of the abundant life that God had promised all people.

This meal Jesus gave became the sign of promise we call this day communion.  It’s the meal of more.

 I recently heard a true story about a dear church member who faithfully worshipped in her local church for her entire life.  Diagnosed with a terminal illness and given only days to live, her Pastor was called to her bed to discuss her final wishes. She told him which songs and scriptures she wanted at the service and what outfit she wanted to wear as she was buried. He took great notes, not wanting to miss a thing. 

Then, as the Pastor was leaving, the lady suddenly cried out, “Wait. There’s one more little thing. I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.” The Pastor didn’t know what to say.

“So that puzzles you, does it?” she replied before she went on to explain:  “In over 70 years of attending community socials and dinners, church functions and birthday parties, seems like every time someone would tell me, ‘Keep your fork.’ I liked to hear that because it meant something better was coming, like chocolate cake or pickled pears or pecan pie, something sweet and wonderful. So now I want my friends and family to remember me with a fork in my hand and I want them to ask, ‘What’s with the fork?’ I want you to tell them: ‘Keep your fork, the best is yet to come.’”

The Pastor became teary eyed as he kissed his dear friend good-bye. But his heart was full as he believed along with her, something better was yet to come.

As expected the woman soon passed, and at the church funeral, many, many people walked by the casket, for she was greatly admired in the community. Everyone wanted to pay their deepest respects to this beloved one.

They all saw the fork. Over and over, the Pastor was asked, “Why the fork?” And over and over he only smiled and said, “The best is yet to come.” During his homily during the memorial, he told what the fork had meant to her, and how he couldn’t stop thinking about it.  The fork symbolized everything this humble servant of God believed about purpose of her life.

So whatever kind of sign you need today– whether it be a fork, an invitation to the Lord’s Table as you will be receiving soon, or writing some of these promise words of scripture down and keeping them close to your heart– I invite you to do it. And do it this week. As you take up these signs of remembrance, know though the nights and days of this season of repentance of preparation called Lent are long– we are not a people ever who are without hope. Why? There’s always more.

Thanks be to God for this our promise for the night today.


March 9, 2012

I Know How You Feel: A White House Visit Reflection

“Will you please make my life better NOW?”

Being a pastor, as many of us know, is a “one size fits all” kind of job filled with lots of expectations placed on our shoulders from many. People certainly want happier lives all the time. And because of this human condition, it is not unusual that we are asked to do so much more than attend to the spiritual lives of our members.

If my colleagues’ weeks are anything like mine, folks regularly want to chat with me about everything from martial relationships, how much money is in their bank accounts, their health, and/ or how they feel our church is or is not meeting their social/ emotional needs. Practically, on a given week, I could be found driving someone to a doctor’s appointment who could not find a ride otherwise, talking with a struggling single mom about where to get assistance to pay some of her past-due bill, or even taking calls from the social workers of some of our mentally challenged church members about her developmental progress. This is all outside that sermon that always must be prepped and ready by Sunday at 11 am (you know, what folks think is our main job).  Though we know that being “all things to all people” is an impossible task and equipping the people of God for the work of ministry is our ultimate goal (i.e. pastors do not do all the work themselves or alone), this does not change the expectations others seem to pile on us week in and week out. Fair or not, it is just the way it is. Sometimes folks, I find, just need someone to blame for their unhappiness in their life and the church and its leadership is an easy scapegoat.

Sometimes we are told as pastors:

If you would just preach a clearer 3-point sermon, then I’d know God’s will for my life.

If the church would just start a new ministry for people in my life situation, then I wouldn’t be as lonely anymore.

If the pastor had just visited my mother-in-law at the hospital one more time, then she wouldn’t have been so discouraged.

“Will you please make my life improve and improve now?” Such pastoral shoes are heavy ones to put on sometimes. Sometimes pastors and the churches they serve feel as helpless to improve the quality of life of its congregants simply because of ALL of the responsibilities before us. It certainly can be overwhelming without lots of prayer.

With all of this being true, I found myself listening to the White House staff I met with this week differently. As part of a 60+ member delegation to converse with White House staff via an invitation from Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement, Paul Monteiro, I sat before some of the most hard-working and most severely criticized public servants in the country. On topics of concern including the environment, human trafficking, housing, credit and immigration, our pastoral delegation listened and dialogue back with the staff about concerns stemming from our “front line” experiences of ministry. A civil and respect-filled encounter existed between us, I am proud to report. However on countless occasions, questions from the pastors to the staffers came in the form of “I wish that the Obama administration could do more on this . . .” This line of questioning felt like a broken record that went on for the duration of the three-hour meeting. We all wanted our government to do MORE. We hoped our government would fix more of our deepest brokeness as a nation. We wanted change soon, and as soon as possible. And as I listened, I couldn’t help but whisper to my colleague, Rev. Abby Thornton sitting beside me, “I want to say to these White House staffers, I know how you feel.”

Of course, my work in my congregation is on a much, much smaller scale, but the expectations and the constant “fix me” is something I do understand. And, I am sorry that my those who we elect to serve or are appointed to serve us in government have to feel this way too. I can’t imagine what it is like to meet with citizens day in and day out receiving little praise for the good work you are doing instead being surrounded by voices that must sound like that of needy preschoolers who constantly ask their teachers for “Help me now! More, more!”

For, while we all have power to lead change, especially in positions of leadership, none of us are saviors, none of us are miracle workers. I know no matter who we elect to the executive office, he or she can not ever address every problem we face as a nation and as global citizens either. I also know that no matter how prepared, studied up or experienced in a multitude of situations as a pastor, I can not save my congregation from their deep woes either. Only God can.

While it is easy to want to expect the impossible from our government leaders, I hope I will think with more compassion the next time I’m in a conversation that begins with “I wish this administration would do . . .” There’s more work, great work to do, of course, but we also must remember the people behind the scenes are just people after all. Like pastors, they can only do so much.

As a citizen as of this democracy, if I want to complain, I need to be willing to do something about the change.

 And, I know the same is true of churches across our land. If you don’t like what you see, do something about it: be a part of the solution, not just the complaint. Like Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see.” And, so let’s get to work, all of us.

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