Thursday, May 29, 2014

Waiting on God

I hate waiting. There, I said it, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. We wait in lines and in doctors’ waiting rooms. We wait for test results and for traffic lights to change. We wait for our favorite TV shows to start and for our loved ones to arrive home.

So it was a surprise when I was following the readings for this Sunday to find the word that summarized the reading, Acts 1:6-14, was “wait.” I read it again, but that was the word the Spirit had for me in this season. So, I set out to overcome the glorification of busy-ness that our culture often promotes and find the way that Easter people wait.

The first memory that came to me was the mornings at my grandparents’ house on the lake. They have both gone on to glory now, but when I was little, I would often spend a good bit of my summer with them.

Each morning, I would stumble out of bed, blearily setting out to find my grandparents. Without fail, they would be out in the “arky” room, a screened in porch with a beautiful view of the lake. My Mumo would open her arms and I would climb into her lap, just resting in their soft conversation and the smell of coffee. Together, we would wait with the earth, watching the birds and squirrels go about their business, seeing the sun crest the tree line, all of creation coming to be a new day without haste or any effort from us.

Waiting is a common theme in our Scripture. Abraham and Sarah wait for the child who will fulfill God’s promise to them. God’s people are enslaved in Egypt, waiting for deliverance, then wandering and waiting for forty years in the desert before they enter the Promised Land. A persecuted and suffering nation waits expectantly for God’s promises to be fulfilled in a Messiah who will bring justice and usher in a new kingdom.

So it should come as no surprise that the first verse from the reading for Sunday, Acts 1:6, poses a question from the disciples to the risen Christ, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” The disciples are a part of a waiting people and they are anxious for the time to be now. Like a child on a road trip, they wonder, “Are we there yet?”

Despite what some would have us believe, God’s great acts in history don’t occur everyday or even frequently. Most of the Bible deals with real people living in the long gaps between God’s mighty acts. We can wonder why we have to wait so long, and get frustrated that we’re not there yet, but this is part of the mystery of our God. Jesus replies to the disciples, “"It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7).

So, what is our part to do as we wait? Our reading has a few words of guidance from those first disciples:
1) Don’t just stand around watching for Jesus to come back. This earned the disciples an angelic admonishment, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
2) Wait for the Holy Spirit. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
3) Stay together and pray. “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together” (Acts 1:14a).

Bishop Will Willimon writes that “waiting, an onerous burden for us computerized and technically impatient moderns who live in an age of instant everything, is one of the tough tasks of the church.” Waiting implies that there is something that needs to be done that’s beyond our individual abilities. Something that can only be done together, undergirded by prayer and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So Easter People wait. We wait actively, not staring up at heaven, but engaging our lives for the sake of the gospel with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray this Sunday finds you devoting yourself to prayer, together with a family of faith. There’s always room for you at our house.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Reality of Evil

A few years ago, a colleague of mine introduced me to NPR. Since then, I’ve gotten fond of feeling smarter when I get out of the car. Recently, I caught part of All Things Considered, featuring Emily Parker, the author of Now I Know Who My Comrades Are, as she explained how the Internet is changing activism. While the program itself was interesting, one quote resonated with me: “Fear, isolation, and apathy are the most effective weapons of authoritarian regimes.”

Beyond the intentional use of these tools by tyrannical governments, these same things are just a few of the ways that evil works in creation. While many folks are not quick to talk about evil, it is a reality that exists in our world. And we can’t fully appreciate the love and grace of God without measuring the height and depth of evil.

Some talk about evil in a personified way – the devil or Satan (from the Hebrew word ha’satan, which simply means “the accuser”). Others, myself included, tend to talk about evil as the accumulation of sin, personal and corporate, that has accumulated over time such that none of us get to start with a blank slate in this life.

Evil is insidious. To share a personal example, this week, I had to make a decision about an invitation from my conference, the regional body that oversees United Methodist churches. It was a great honor and something I have sincere interest in doing. However, there remains the little fact that the start of the training would fall right around my due date. I was divided. Did I decline for the sake of my family and potentially set my career back? Or did I commit to the training, pressing through the late stages of pregnancy and the sleepless nights as the mother of a newborn?

I ended up calling a trusted friend to hear my thoughts and help me figure out what I should do. And through our conversation, I saw clearly how I had resisted evil in one little way in my life. I overcame my fear of appearing weak or unambitious to discern what was truly right for me, what was truly life-giving and of God in this season of life. I refused to let myself be isolated, thinking that I had to make this decision alone without prayer and counsel.

Fear, isolation, and apathy affect us individually and corporately. The Wall Street Journal reported that recent voter turnout for federal elections in India reached 66%, or about 814 million people. In comparison, 57.5% of eligible voters in our country voted in the 2012 elections, which equates to 126 million people. It astonishes me that so many of us don’t vote when the right to vote was so contested and hard won for many. It’s apathy. It’s believing that our voice doesn’t matter. It’s withdrawing our gifts and graces from the larger body. And it’s not a way that leads to life.

These are only a few examples of things that can be the slippery slope, the seemingly innocent temptations, the habits of our minds, and the way evil can work in the world. This week, at the Krum Church, we’ll talk about how Easter people work the fields. I’m not much of a gardener or farmer, as any of my church folks can tell you, but I do believe that Jesus calls us to the fields.

For the past few weeks, I’ve also been out asking for donations or sponsorships for our Senior Breakfast. It’s a 50+ year tradition our church has of celebrating our graduating seniors. And I’ve been wonderfully surprised at the generosity of our community. In many cases, all I have had to do is ask and the gifts are given, cheerfully and willingly. But I have to work the fields. The gifts don’t come in unless someone asks.

As Christians, we are called to do the same. Jesus “said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Luke 10:2). Our brothers and sisters are waiting for a word of good news, something that gives hope and life in the midst of fear, isolation, and apathy. We have been entrusted with the gospel, not to hoard, but to share and celebrate. Our friends, family, and neighbors don’t become part of the Body of Christ unless someone asks. May we all be good news to someone this week!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Good Conspiracy

A few weeks ago, I attended one of my husband’s doctoral recitals at UNT. He is a saxophonist and, for one piece, he played with a quintet of other woodwinds. What struck me most powerfully, besides its beauty, was the fact that there was no director. Just six individuals, keeping an eye and an ear toward each other as they made music.

This was a good conspiracy. The less common definition of “conspire” is “to act in harmony toward a common end” (see It comes from the from the Latin “conspirare,” from the root parts “con,” which means together, and “spirareto,” which means breathe. Originally, to conspire was simply to breathe together.

I know, my English degree is showing as we explore these word roots, but language is important. That’s why we spend so much time in the words of Scripture. Words have power. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
God’s word goes out and does not return empty. In Hebrew, the word for wind/breath/spirit is “ruah.” Usually, you can’t see your breath. It’s intangible; you can’t grab it. When all is well, we don’t think about it too much. But the ancient measure between a living person and a dead person was breath – one had it and the other did not. 

In that recital, the musicians were conspiring. They were literally breathing together as they brought forth something more wondrous than any of them could have alone. I could see it in the movement of their shoulders and hear it in the rippling waves of sound that came from their instruments. And most magnificently of all, even as they breathed together, they listened to one another, balancing the volume of each part so that no one was dominant or out of accord.

There are so many lessons we can learn from the arts. It’s powerful to breathe with our fellow creatures and with our Creator. When I breathe with others, when I get down to the basic things that make us human – like wanting the best for our kids, longing to feel safe and secure, needing enough food each day – I am able to have compassion. I am able to see deeper than the picky, pesky things that separate us and see them as my brother or sister, struggling just as much as I do just to breathe sometimes.

When we breathe with our Creator, when we allow our spirit to be one with the Holy Spirit, who knows what we might do?! We become comforted such that we can offer comfort. We are set on fire for God, our souls restless for justice and righteousness. We are empowered to be change agents in a broken world desperately in need of good news that transforms.

This Sunday at the Krum Church, we’ll affirm that Easter people witness. It’s a word that’s gotten a bad reputation, as we might recall a street preacher with a bullhorn, condemning people to hell without even knowing their names. Or the awkward teenager handing out sinner’s prayer pamphlets which promise to bring eternal life without relationship.

Being a witness is our Christian calling and I encourage those of us who are shy about it, because we’ve seen it done poorly or hurtfully, to reclaim it! Being a witness is simply about being someone who has seen something happen and is willing to tell about it. I pray that you have seen the word of God work in your life. That is something to talk about!

One of our gospels states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:1-4). May the life that comes through Jesus Christ –abundant, overflowing, grace-filled – come into being in us. And may we have the courage to tell someone!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Living in Community

Come Sunday at the Krum Church, we’ll remember that Easter people live in community. Not just the superficial community some of us may settle for – the wave to the neighbors, drive through downtown, smile politely but keep the deep things to ourselves stuff of over-scheduled, underfed lives. We are made to live in community. It’s what God intended! God, who lives in community within God’s own self in the eternal relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, created us with the same capacity and necessity for love.

I found this wonderful story recently on Momastery, one of my favorite blogs: In carpentry, “sometimes an existing joist, which was designed to handle a certain load, becomes too weak. Maybe it was damaged by water or fire. Maybe it still has structural integrity but an addition is being constructed and the new load is going to be a lot heavier than before. Either way, now it is not as sturdy as it needs to be.

When a builder needs to strengthen that joist, she puts a new member right next to the original one and fastens the two together. Sometimes, two new joists are needed- one on either side. Do you know what they call that? A Sister Joist.”

We need our brothers and sisters and they need us. Sometimes something has happened in our lives, some tragedy or circumstance that has left us grieving and broken. Or perhaps good, new challenges have come along such as a change of job or the addition of children and the new load is heavier than before.

The common perception that Christianity is primarily about the individual and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is an insidious, modern heresy. Like the serpent in the garden, it whispers that we can be enough on our own.

But look at Jesus’ own ministry! Jesus didn’t collect a studio of students and only teach private lessons. No, he called together a small group, knitting them together in relationship with himself as well as with one another. The small group of the disciples and their rabbi was dynamic and life-giving. It allowed for questions to surface and lessons to be taught while ensuring that when the teacher was no longer physically present, they wouldn’t be alone in this life. Not only would the disciples receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, to comfort and empower them, but they would have each other.

It’s a good thing for all of us who call ourselves Christian to echo this example. If, for today, we aren’t the joists that need shoring up, then we are the ones called to stand alongside others, to lend our strength for a season. Because it all goes around in time. Those who lend strength today will need to borrow it someday. And if we live outside a deep community, our resources in times of need will be sorely lacking.

Some of us are blessed to find our first and best community in our families. This week also brings us Mother’s Day, an American holiday which originated with Anna Jarvis, a laywoman from the Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia in 1907.

While for some of us this holiday is a straight-forward obligation to call our moms or make sure we get a gift for the mother in our household, I ask us all to remember that for many, it’s not that simple. Motherhood, like any human relationship, can be a messy reality.

So, as you do your shopping or get your cards in the mail, consider praying for mothering relationships in all their forms. Those who have struggled with infertility. Those for whom motherhood was unwelcome or challenging. Those who have lost children to death. Those who have struggled in relationship with their mothers. Those who opened their hearts to children through adoption or foster care. Those who struggle to balance the demands of family life with work and other commitments.

Maybe Mother’s Day can be an opportunity to live a greater reality of what it means to be family. Jesus said, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:33, 35). In this simple statement, Jesus reconstitutes what it means to be a family, calling us to extend the love we usually reserve for our nuclear families much wider. So, this week, consider embracing the Creator’s blueprints and live in community.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Living as Easter People

Almost two weeks ago, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In our church, as in many, there was special music, lilies, friends and family – in short, it was our finest, offered to God in praise and thanksgiving for this miracle of redemption.

And yet, this past Sunday, many churches experienced one of the lowest Sundays in the year. It always strikes me as odd. We’ve just heard the good news, the best news, that our God is triumphant over death and offers us grace upon grace to live this life faithfully. Isn’t that the kind of thing that makes you hungry for more?

Or, is it like going to a rich banquet, with all the best trimmings and all our favorite foods, and when it’s over, we push our chairs back, loosen our belts, and feel no need for anything else. Is it possible to glut ourselves on the good news of Easter, letting its stores tide us over until next year, or maybe Christmas?
I certainly hope not. In our church, as in many traditional churches, Easter is understood not as one day, but as an entire season, called the Great Fifty Days. For fifty days we celebrate the resurrection, culminating on Pentecost, when we remember how the power of the Holy Spirit has brought the church into being.

To understand Easter as one day is to make the same mistake that many newlyweds make. They get so caught up in the wedding plans – the perfect cake, the perfect dress, the perfect music, etc. – that they forget about the hard, challenging, and very rewarding work of the marriage ahead.

So, we are called to live as Easter people all year long, not just on one Sunday. That’s what our church is focusing on through the Great Fifty Days. Last Sunday we walked with Thomas to affirm that Easter people believe, even though it’s often hard and messy.

This week, we’ll see how Easter people turn around. In Scripture, there are a couple of words used for the idea of turning around. The Hebrew is shuv while the Greek is metanoia. Both words are usually translated as repentance. Repentance goes beyond asking for forgiveness. It is a complete U-turn, a life transformation, a time when we turn our backs on old ways and live into new ones.

And it’s what God asks of us. It’s re-turning to God and focusing our lives on the source of all life and goodness. This Sunday, we’ll hear Peter’s witness, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:14, 36). The crowd was “cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized’” (Acts 2:37-38a).

Baptism is the public ritual that acknowledges our spiritual death in sin and the gracious initiative of God to birth us anew. As United Methodists, the first question we ask those who come for baptism is: “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sins?” It gets at this idea of turning around. We acknowledge the path we are on is broken and misleading that no amount of repair we might attempt can ever make it right. We renounce it, we reject it, we turn and walk a different way.

God offers us new life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God offers us a new path on which to walk, the way of the Crucified and Risen One. We are baptized, cleansed, born anew by water and Spirit to walk in this new path of eternal life. And we are filled with the Spirit from that moment forward to make that path our own as we continue to turn from old allegiances or habits and learn how to live out the deliverance we have been freely given in Christ.

Easter is not just one day. If you’re looking for new life, if your ways aren’t working anymore, if you think it’s time to turn around and follow Jesus, I look forward to seeing you in church this Sunday. It’s a long road, but you have plenty of companions for the journey and a great guidebook.