Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Prayer for Teachers

This morning, i was part of a "Community Prayer Breakfast" in which several area pastors prayed for different aspects of our nation and community. here is my contribution. 
A prayer for teachers (and aides, administration and other staff!)

God of Grace, Your Holy Word tells us to
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” {Proverbs 22:6}

We pray this for our whole community!

Specifically for our educators we pray:

Patience & compassion every day, with students, families and with each other. That their compassion and patience will help build good relationships, for that is the key to building community.

Wisdom – excellent insight how to best convey their knowledge and a love of learning! and discernment to develop that love in different ways in different students!

Creative ideas to spark enthusiasm and build relationships!

A sense of humor -to use appropriately as we know humor is a way to help us connect with one another.

We pray Lord that every teacher and school staff person is able to see every student as a child of God, in need of loving care and a safe environment in which to learn, and play, and grow.

Please Lord also help families to appreciate the teachers and staff, for the hours they put in well beyond the school day. And we pray that teachers and all others working with our children find rest and restoration on weekends and days off. Holy rest and refreshment that is found in healthy pastimes with family and friends. Ideally that some of that restoration is found in our churches, dear Lord.

And Lord help us to help our educators!

For all these things we pray in the Name and Spirit of the Great Teacher- Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

It's early September and I'm struggling to realize that summer's nearly over. I haven't had enough corn on the cob or fresh BLTs yet! But time marches along! School is in session, the days are shorter and cooler, and leaves are beginning to change color on a few of the trees. This time of transition to fall can bring a sense of new beginnings. All the years of being in school, then getting my kids off to school, makes Fall a good time to start some things fresh. I've started a couple books, one a popular novel from a few years ago that I missed out on. And I've done a bit of fall cleaning...lots more to go, but I'm making progress. So tell me, what do you turn to when Fall comes? Do you begin a new project? Plan for holidays? Plan a fall or winter vacation? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.  

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hearing is Believing

Deuteronomy 6
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one . 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.


Found out this week a name for a favorite type of humor... Paraprosdokians are figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected and is frequently humorous.

  • In the morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas, I don't know. ―Groucho Marx
  • Where there's a will, I want to be in it.
  • Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
  • If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.
  • Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • In filling out an application, where it says, "In case of emergency, notify... I answered " a doctor."
  • I used to be indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.

Deuteronomy chapter 6, is the beginning of the Shema, the great prayer said every day morning and evening by the Jewish people! Why is it called the Shema? That is the Hebrew word at the very beginning, translated Hear!

As we've discussed before, the ancient language of Hebrew had many fewer words than English does. So one word may have several meanings, that are related, that give depth to our understanding of the scriptures. The first word, shema, we usually translate “hear.” But the word shema has a much wider, deeper meaning than “to perceive sound.” It encompasses a whole spectrum of ideas that includes listening, taking heed, and responding with action to what one has heard.

So this prayer says, Hear, listen, understand! The Lord our God, the Lord is ONE God, the Only God! (don't listen to those people around you who are praying to gods of harvest and rain and the sun god that got covered up the other day by the moon god!) The Lord our God is THE ONLY God, love the lord with all your heart and soul and might! In other words love God with all your being! And tell others, especially your family! Morning and evening, and when you are walking down the road to your work or to get water or to go worship. Put God first, and help others to do so as well.

This is the core of the life of faith. Maybe we should pray this every day!? And of course Jesus quoted this when asked what is the greatest commandment! When properly understood, we find the greatest commandment is actually a call to commit ourselves to the one true God.
And that when we do, an action should result from what is in our minds. If you “remember” someone, you will act on their behalf. If you “hear” someone, you will obey their words. If you “know” someone, you will have a close relationship with them.

When in the Psalms, we find “Hear my prayer” the psalmist is not asking God to merely hear the words. The plea is for God to hear and comprehend the meaning behind the words, the reason we pray! And to answer, to give a response to the prayer. (of course, God's answer is often not what we expect!)

Jesus used this word Shema when he taught. He often taught using parables, stories that he shared. These stories were often something that may or may not have happened, but it was a story that his listeners could relate to. When he talked about the Samaritan helping a Jew beaten up on the Jericho road, everyone know that road was steep, winding, and treacherous! They could picture it! When he told about a lost sheep, his listeners, living in an agricultural society, knew that sheep do stray, and are quickly in danger!

But his stories, the parables were often challenging, because his stories changed up the ideas that folks usually had. A shepherd likely would not leave 99 sheep to go after 1, because then the whole flock was vulnerable. Jews and Samaritans hated each other, so the likelihood of the only help available coming from a Samaritan was a surprise twist! So even though Jesus used contemporary, familiar images in his stories, his listeners were still often stumped by exactly what he meant in the telling.

So our Gospel lesson is from Matthew. Jesus is explaining why he used parables that were so tricky to understand.

Matthew 13 The Purpose of the Parables
10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people's heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

The New testament was written in Greek, and the Greek words in this passage for Hear and hearing, mean to hear the wisdom. To hear wisdom, we have to pay attention, don't we! We can't just let the words, let the sound waves bounce off our eardrums and go away! We need to pay attention, and to be receptive! To allow the words -the thoughts and ideas- to come inside. When we are receptive, we can learn, we begin to learn a new idea, or learn something about a neighbor that we didn't know, and then begin or deepen a relationship.

And relationships are what it's all about! Author Barbara Brown Taylor who was the keynote speaker at our National Annual Meeting in June, said there that God is interested in the business of making Christians one-not alike!” Put another way, God is less interested in our having the right view than he is in our having the right relationships.”

As I said, this Gospel was written in Greek...but Jesus spoke to the Jewish people in their own language. For a long time, it was thought that this was Aramaic, a from of Hebrew, but recent scholarship, from study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other recent archaeological findings, many scholars now say Jesus spoke Hebrew. He probably also spoke Greek, which was the language of the whole middle eastern area, after Alexander the Great conquered everything. The Greek language & culture then spread. But for the Jewish people living in the region, while they spoke Greek, also, they spoke Hebrew. So when Jesus said “hear”-he said Shema! Our wonderful word that means to hear, to listen, to understand, and to obey!

Author Anne Lamott: “Once during a children's service at my church, St. Andrew Prez, my pastor had the four children close their eyes and be still and listen, as a way to God. After a while, she asked them to keep their eyes closed and to tell us what they heard. They shared that they heard a police siren, and birds, and the shuffling sounds of the grown ups. But this one boy, a four year old named Tom, said, solemnly, “I hear the sound of water at the edge of all things.”

(Anne continues) I thought, Who is writing your stuff, kiddo? And, being a writer, May I use that?

My pastor and I still talk about this moment, ten years later, shake our heads, and laugh. Laughter saves us. ...What the children hear will save us. They accidentally blurt out the truth, the scariness and beauty of these times, the sirens and the birdsong, and that they need us to stay close by. Listen.”

There's a difference between hearing and listening, isn't there? if you have raised kids, you probably had a time or two when you said something, giving some instructions, like pick up your toys or get ready for bed...and the child did not do as you asked. And you may have said, “Did you hear me!”? Your words were likely heard, but not listened to. They may have been understood, but not obeyed. So you see the difference between hearing and listening? Hearing is just the words, the sound waves hitting our eardrums. Listening is paying attention. Understanding is to comprehend what's being said, the meaning perhaps behind the words! To understand scripture means-ideally- to know what it meant then, but even more importantly, for us to know how God's word relates to our lives today. And when we do understand, when we get it, then we live it. We obey. We truly become followers of Jesus. We trust God's love because we have the knowledge that Jesus shared.

We live our faith in many ways. We pray for one another! We pray for organizations who feed, clothe and shelter our neighbors in need. And we help out those organizations, don't we! But we live our faith in other ways too.

In yesterday's Upper Room was this: The 88-year-old woman had come to the soup kitchen for her supper. She seemed to be the life of the party at her table, encouraging everyone around her. Apparently hard of hearing, she talked loudly, which allowed many people to hear the “Bless you!” that she said to those who stopped by to greet her.

Prior to the meal, many of the people who entered the dining area looked downcast and seemed ashamed to be there. However, the Spirit of God, working through this positive and joyful woman, seemed to change the atmosphere of the whole room. In no time, the laughter and relaxed fellowship at her table had spread to all the other tables.

Serving the Lord with gladness is contagious and brings joy to the heart. It helps us to understand that no matter our circumstances, we can be agents of God’s blessings.

Bringing joy into a room with your own upbeat self is living your faith. And it spreads like ripples on a pond!

Hear, oh people of God, hear, Listen, Understand, obey! Love God and Love your neighbor. That's all we have to do! Is it always easy? no. Is it worth it? YES always!! 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Quality of Mercy

July 30, 2017
The Quality of Mercy Pastor Carol P. Taylor

Psalm 145:1-10

A psalm of praise. Of David.

I will exalt you,  my God the King;
        I will praise your name  for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise  you
        and extol your name  for ever and ever.
Great  is the  Lord  and most worthy of praise;
        his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation  commends your works to another;
        they tell  of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor  of your majesty―
        and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[
They tell  of the power of your awesome works―
        and I will proclaim  your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
        and joyfully sing  of your righteousness.
The  Lord  is gracious and compassionate,
        slow to anger and rich in love.
The  Lord  is good  to all;
        he has compassion  on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you,  Lord;
        your faithful people extol  you.

Sermon Series The Beatitudes of Jesus

I love the Beatitudes. Steve and I talked several weeks ago and he said he had decided to do this series over the summer. I was pretty psyched, I have notes....extensive notes from leading in depth studies of in two different groups a few years ago. The Beatitudes have been studied in a lot of ways, they challenge us. Especially now with new scholarship, new knowledge of how Jesus and his people lived, with better information about their customs and traditions, we can better understand.

As one author wrote; Rooted in the texts and traditions of ancient Judaism, they (Beatitudes) crystallize the very heart of a message God has been trying to convey to us from the beginning of time: a blessed life is a life transformed, and blessed lives gathered in community are capable of transforming the entire world.

Our text this morning is Blessed are the Merciful, for they will be shown mercy Matthew 5:7

Other Translations say “obtain mercy or receive mercy”

So.. short answer.. when we show others mercy, we will receive it ourselves! So what is mercy... Definition of  mercy
plural  mercies
  1. 1a  :  compassion or forbearance (see  forbearance  1) shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power;  also  :  lenient or compassionate treatment  begged for  mercyb  :  imprisonment rather than death imposed as penalty for first-degree murder
  2. 2a  :  a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion  May God have  mercy  on us.b  :  a fortunate circumstance  it was a  mercy  they found her before she froze
  3. 3:  compassionate treatment of those in distress  works of  mercy  among the poor

Our psalm says God has compassion on all he has made! God is gracious and compassionate...slow to anger and rich in love! God knows and understands what we go through. And is so interested in us, God's own creation, that God's own self, Jesus came to live as a human being! Wow. Since we know that all all through history, humans fail at loving God as we should, God sent Jesus to BE one of us! To finally show us, and perhaps to even more fully comprehend what humanity is like!

So we are to show mercy, as God shows us mercy! To forgive as we have been forgiven. And we will then obtain more mercy!! more compassion, blessing.
When we pray, forgive us our debts, our trespasses, our sins. Forgive us, we forgive those who sin against us.

Some of us struggle to forgive. So perhaps our prayer, and we can pray this mentally as we pray the lords prayer.. maybe our prayer can be “Help us to forgive we have been forgiven by You, dear Lord!

The amount of our own ability or willingness to forgive others does NOT limit God's ability and willingness to forgive us. God is LOVE and God's loving-kindness, mercy, grace.. means that God MUST forgive, out of God's unlimited love and compassion.

Now let's look at our New Testament lesson. It is from the book of Jude. This is one of the letters, written sometime between 40 - 60 years after the death of Jesus. The author, Jude is likely related to Jesus, possibly his half-brother.
The author writes to warn about false teachers in the early church.

Jude 1:17-22

A Call to Persevere

17  But, dear friends, remember what the apostles  of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold.  18  They said to you, “In the last times  there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.”  19  These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
20  But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up  in your most holy faith  and praying in the Holy Spirit,  21  keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait  for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
22  Be merciful to those who doubt; 
May God add a blessing to the reading of His word,. Amen.
As we wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus to bring us to eternal life...we are to be merciful to those who doubt. You see, just as now, when people are speaking falsely, they may speak rudely, and provoke divisiveness between people! God's Love brings people together!
Mercy = forgiveness (of course!)
but there is more to it! Mercy is God's gift of grace and unconditional love. God's mercy, which includes healing and justice. To be merciful is to seek to be more like Jesus, reaching out in His name. To recognize that everyone is a child of God, that what we may dislike in ourselves and others may well be what God adores, and is an expression of God's creativity.
God's mercy promotes unity, never division.

The word in the NT for mercy -ἐƒÉƒÃέƒÖ  eleéō,  el-eh-eh'-o; from  G1656; to compassionate (by word or deed, specially, by divine grace):―have compassion (pity on), have (obtain, receive, shew) mercy (on).

This is related to the Hebrew word used in the OT for mercy and unconditional love, Chesed. So in both the Hebrew scriptures and in the NT the words for mercy have to do with love and so much more!

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy!
So we see that Mercy = forgiveness (of course!)
but there is more to it! To be merciful is to seek to be more like Jesus, reaching out in His name. To be merciful, we remember that God is never, ever done with us! And we gain compassion, because we've received it.

Author Henri Nouwen's description of compassion: it "grows with the inner recognition that your neighbor shares your humanity with you. This partnership cuts through all walls which might have kept you separate. Across all barriers of land and language, wealth and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, we are one, created from the same dust, subject to the same laws, destined for the same end."
And we recognize that everyone is a child of God, that what we may dislike in ourselves and others may well be what God adores, and is an expression of God's creativity.

God's mercy promotes unity, never division. This is what the author of Jude is saying. And that we are to be merciful...have compassion on those who don't believe. So we pray for them. And pray for ourselves perhaps, to have more kindness and compassion ourselves. To live a bit better in and for the Love of Jesus, that undying mercy and grace and truth. The beatitudes proclaim a message from God ... a blessed life is a life transformed, and blessed lives gathered in community are capable of transforming the entire world.
You see, the Beatitudes can be viewed as a progression, as we grow in our faith. We recognize our need for God, for Jesus!! one may mourn the past, and by learning more about the love and grace and compassion of God through Jesus, we learn to control our emotions..that's meekness. we yearn for more of the love and comfort and joy of the Lord! And we want others to know about it! Then we're growing in the knowledge of the love and forgiveness and compassion of the Lord and we know that that love has changed us, and we share it. When we share in small ways as well as big ones..there is a ripple effect. Something as simple and as easy as sharing a pleasantry with a waitress or grocery store clerk, can go a long way. And as we go along, we are growing in our own faith and affecting others in a positive way.

So...we worship, pray together, work in our various jobs and volunteer positions...and any of those can be a ministry! When we are kind and compassionate, we are sharing the love of Christ! In the next few weeks, we will house homeless families, get school supplies to needy families, deliver meals on wheels and many other means of outreach. What a blessing!

Holy God, thank you for your mercy, so freely given. Help us to live mercifully, and so be blessed and be a blessing. Let your Light and love shine in us this day and always! In Jesus name and spirit we pray, amen.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Using our "mental floss"

Sometimes one sees something that is ugly, or disturbing, or just stupidly silly. We may wish we hadn't seen it!  There is a cartoon I like, that illustrates this wish;


Yes, we all need 'mentil floss" from time to time! 
(Opus is a penguin, spelling is optional 😉 )

There actually is a form of "Mental Floss"; a way to help cleanse our thoughts  from the ugly or mean, or disturbing. it is this:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. -Phillipians 4:8 NIV

Consciously focusing our thoughts on the positive can make a huge difference in our attitude!  And one person making a real choice to have a good attitude, can help spread that good feeling, like ripples spreading on a lake!
When we help our attitude, we help improve our day. 
When we improve our day, we help improve the day of people around us!  

I do not suggest that we avoid all "bad stuff" in life. We need to be realistic. But helping our focus to be positive, instead of dwelling on the downside, is a huge help to each of us. Give it a try and let me know how it goes. God bless.

*Cartoon is from Bloom County, drawn by Berkely Breathed.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sermon May 28 at United Church of Beloit

From the Beginning 

Genesis 1 New International Version (NIV)

The Beginning

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning―the first day.

John 1 New International Version (NIV)

The Word Became Flesh

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God―13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Creative God Genesis 1 and 2 -the stories of Creation, showcase God's creativity. God created and said it was good. The heavens and earth have great beauty and variety! God's creativity is expansive!

John 1―the prologue, written to deliberately echo Gen 1.
Jesus one with God, part of creation from the beginning. Fulfilling the covenant promises made by God to the Hebrew people hundreds of years earlier.. God's promise so important, it was given to Jeremiah AND to the prophet Ezekiel several years later! “I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Jesus said (In Matthew's gospel) And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

LOGOS -Word..

The term “Word” (Greek logos) designates God the Son with respect to His deity; In Greek philosophy, the Logos was “reason” or “logic” as an abstract force that brought order and harmony to the universe. Logos was the core of who a person is. So John is stressing that Jesus, human and divine, is at the core of our being.


1:9 The true light. In this Gospel, “truth” and “true” are often employed to signify what is everlasting or heavenly, as opposed to the merely temporal or earthly. See notes 4:24; 6:32; “Mankind’s Guilty Knowledge of God” at Rom. 1:19.

1:18 No one has ever seen God. It is fundamental that God is invisible and without form (1 Tim. 6:16). Yet Christ reveals God. He brings the invisible and the visible together in a way that has no parallel or analogy.

I chose these passages because of reading Jean Vanier, who began to work with Disabled adults and formed the L'Arche movement, which is now an international organization promoting dignified care of developmentally disabled adults.

In 1964, through the influence of his friendship with a Catholic priest, Father Thomas Philippe, Vanier invited two men with disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave the institutions where they lived and to share their lives with him in a house in Trosly-Breuil, France.
There, in that small home in Trosly-Breuil, Vanier’s initial urge to “do something for” Raphael and Philippe grew to become a commitment to “being with” and “friend to” these two men. With that shift in heart and consciousness, a core belief of L’Arche emerged: that strength is revealed through weakness and human vulnerability, which given room to grow in trust, creates community. And, Vanier understood, the desire to love and to be loved is something every person longs to experience.

Vanier: The Gospel of John, then, is the story of how the Eternal Word became flesh, was born a Jew, immersed in the Jewish culture. The story of how he leads us all from behind the barriers of fear and indifference into a new unity, a new peace through a relationship with him which flows from God and brings us into the heart of God. 

Unmerited favor,...the love, mercy, forgiveness of God that we, neither you nor I, nor anyone deserves or can earn, that God just gives to us because...well because God is God. God is love and must give us that love, in the form of Grace.
Grace is (from Walter Brueggemann)
-forgiveness in order to start again
-generosity that overwhelms
-hospitality that welcomes .
-justice that protects the vulnerable.

Nadia Bolz-weber puts it this way: Grace isn't about God creating humans and flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace - like saying, "Oh, it's OK, I'll be the good guy and forgive you." It's God saying, "I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.”
Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

God loves us. So even in our imperfections, God loves us... in fact what we view as flaws, may not be at all! Years back a friend said what if the thing you hate about yourself is exactly what God loves best?!
So those who believe in Jesus, are God's children! Heirs to the kingdom of heaven!

50 years ago. When Vanier began his work.. within the lifetime of most of us here today, a disabled child or family member might be an embarrassment! There are vestiges of that feeling yet today. But we're getting better.

And a place like a church family is a great place to help change these attitudes.
Perhaps, what we think of as differences, even as a disability, is what Jesus loves most!

The introduction of the book recounts the story of Jean Vanier teaching a course on pastoral care. During one class, Vanier asked the students to share some of their spiritual experiences. One of the students, Angela (who was deaf) began to share a dream she had where she met Jesus in heaven. She recalled talking with Jesus for some time and never experiencing so much joy and peace. "Jesus was everything I had hoped he would be," she said, "And his signing was amazing!" Vanier explains to the reader that "for Angela, heaven's perfection did not involve being 'healed' of her deafness. Rather, it was a place where the social, relational, and communication barriers that restricted her life in the present no longer existed."
this woman was not healed in her vision of heaven, Jesus spoke to her in sign language...Perhaps her deafness and her signing is what He loves most about her?

As we grow in God's love, and learn more about Jesus through Worship and bible study and prayer, we learn to love and accept ourselves with all our brokenness and beauty, as Vanier puts it. And in this process, we also accept and love one another, with all of our brokenness and beauty. All of our differences and similarities. We learn to accept and love ourselves and others.

Today in the Presbyterian church is Disability Inclusion Sunday. This is new to me, I only read about it on Friday, after this service was planned out and the bulletin done.
Carol Brown is the Moderator of the Presbyterians for Disability Concerns (PDC) leadership team within PHEWA. She says every Sunday should be Disability Inclusion Sunday.

Brown says churches need to think about every aspect of worship to ensure that people with disabilities are considered.
Communion can be very exclusive, leaving people with disabilities out,” she said. “Little things in worship such as asking congregations to ‘Please stand if you are able.’ It’s kind of demeaning ― like you are inferior if you can’t stand.”
WOW that's a wake up call for me, I have never intended that to be demeaning and I do apologize! Carol Brown says The preferred way of saying that would be ‘Please stand in body and/or in spirit.’”
I will endeavor to remember to use that...

so yes, people who have differing abilities or ways of being, intellectual or physical, or emotional ways of being different than you or me―if they love Jesus, Are STILL Children of God! Our passage says so!

Children are heirs..heirs to the kingdom of heaven! In heaven in which we will be together with God for all time and there is no barrier of communication or relationship or social construct that will impair our ability-or anyone else's to be with God, through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit!

God is creative...and God loves variety. Maybe, just maybe, what we view as a flaw, as a handicap or what God loves most about us?
Perhaps that is an expression of God's creativity? Maybe we can think of differences as God's creative powers at work! Because we know that God's Grace is for all.

And when we pray “On earth as it is in heaven”...we pray that our Loving Creative God's heart be lived out here on earth...and that can only happen through us. Sharing Love, forgiveness, generosity, hospitality, and justice.
And so we learn that strength is revealed through weakness and human vulnerability, which given room to grow in trust, creates community. And we can help someone else to achieve their desire to love and to be loved. Because that, from the very beginning, is what all of us want and need.

“― Nadia Bolz-Weber, And this is it. This is the life we get here on earth. We get to give away what we receive. We get to believe in each other. We get to forgive and be forgiven. We get to love imperfectly. And we never know what effect it will have for years to come. And all of  it…all of  it is completely worth it.”


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Photography friendship

Being an amateur photographer, I enjoy and promote other's works. I've been able to work with some terrific professionals at weddings and have several friends who are photographers.

 This photo on Facebook started a friendship! 
This was taken at a community vigil here in town, after a tragic shooting. There was a large crowd, a true cross-section of the community. My friend Pastor Kenda spoke, and as she was about to lead us in prayer, said, "Go ahead, hug or take the arm of the person next to you! It's ok, we are here to be together!" We did. The next day a photographer posted many pictures she had taken at the event on Facebook; and someone tagged me in one, between an African-American woman and a Latino man. It's a powerful photo. 
Later the photographer, Viviana and I exchanged messages. We hit it off and met for coffee. We've become friends. I sat for her 'Everyday People" project and she took some great shots of me, including the one used for my 'google profile'.
this link will take you right to my pic, scroll up and down to see others. 

Recently Viviana offered a "Best Friends" photo shoot option, which my longtime friend Sandy & I did. It was fun, and naturally we started laughing. We made Viviana laugh too, at one point she was having trouble holding her camera from laughing so hard with us! 

Thank you, Viviana! You are a blessing to me and to so many. You're incredibly talented and using your gifts to help people find beauty in life and to find their own beauty and joy. May God bless you always! 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Arise! Lent Sermon March 29, 2017

Arise!  Sermon for Community Lenten Worship service at New Covenant Life Church in Beloit, WI. March 29, 2017

As some of us Pastors met and were planning this series of Worship Services and catching up with each other, a Hospice Chaplain was there and a couple of us talked about our experiences with Hospice, in our personal and professional lives. The theme of “healing stories” came up. In the bible, Jesus had many, many healing stories, and I believe they are there for many reasons. There are many kinds of healing, that all help bring us closer to the Kingdom! Remember, Jesus's message was “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!” and what is the kingdom of heaven? Where everyone lives in peace and harmony, with dignity, in safety, in health and wholeness. Where the deaf hear, the blind can see, and the lame walk and leap! The kingdom of heaven is God's perfect peace and protection, Shalom!

In many of the healing stories, Jesus says, “your Faith has made you well.” Our Faith helps us draw closer to God, to heal from the past; and to share our stories together. Stories help us get to know each other and to be better able to share our own stories. We need to share, by listening well, not only talking :)

Picture yourself in this scene! What would you do? What would you think?!

Luke 7:11-17
7:11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him.
7:12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.
7:13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep."
7:14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!"
7:15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
7:16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!"
7:17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Our Gospel story takes place in Nain, a smaller town near Nazareth, Jesus' home town, in a mountainous region of Galilee (a region of what is now the country of Israel.) The tradition of the time was that when someone died, they were buried just outside of the city, so the funeral procession would walk to the site. Nain was a small town, so one can imagine that there would be a crowd for the service, because everyone probably knew this family! Jesus and his followers have happened upon this procession.

This is one of many stories in the Gospel of Luke about miracle healings and of course this is quite the miracle! This story is different from some of the others, though! This healing is not about someone's faith is it? This story is different.

Jesus merely spoke to a dead man and he came back to life! But why do we have THIS particular story? The key is in verses 12 and 13. “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.”...

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her.

Jesus had compassion for her! In the original Greek, the word used here literally means to feel anguish in the gut, deep inside. Literally one's insides turn over!
This is a DEEP deep feeling...he took into himself the woman's pain and suffering!

I believe when he said to her, “Do not weep”, this was not chastising her for her tears, or patronizing, He said it as comfort and, as a means to help enable her to see and understand what was about to happen.
Jesus raised the young man, because of the mother! He knew what desperate straights she was in. Notice that she did not ask for help! In fact, she wouldn't have even looked at him. In this culture it was inappropriate for a man and woman who were not married to each other to make any eye contact when out in public! Yet Jesus knew her grief, knew her gut-wrenching anguish. “His heart went out to her...” Jesus understood at the deepest level, at the very core of his being, the pain of this woman's loss. Not only is there the incredible grief of losing a child, and losing a child, even an adult child, is a loss no one should endure. In this time, a widow with no sons had no male protector. She wouldn't have a job of course, and most women had little or no money of their own, unless they were an only child of a wealthy family. This woman, widowed with no son, might soon find herself homeless.

So Jesus, not knowing her, not being asked, simply came over to the bier, and spoke to the dead man. “Arise!” and he rose!
{to Clarify, some translations say “Rise” some say “Get up”. The one I use at home says Arise, and that makes a better sermon title ;) }

So Jesus said, Arise! And the man rose and began to speak! Notice that detail, not only did he revive but he spoke, he was well! And Jesus gave him back to his mother. This miracle was performed for was about caring for this grieving woman.
One more thing occurs to me in this story. Jesus' deep compassion for the widow, grieving her son....

I believe that as the funeral procession approached, Jesus may have had a premonition of his own mother Mary at that moment, that he foresaw the anguish she would feel at the cross. On that cross, Jesus, filled with compassion even as he was dying, gave his mother to his beloved disciple and the beloved disciple to her...”Woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.”

And this story of course foreshadows the Easter miracle, the resurrection!

And the crowd “were all filled with fear and awe and praised God.” Can you imagine it? And they called Jesus a great prophet in their midst.

They said, “God has come to help his people” the Jewish people of this time were living under the thumb of the roman empire. (NOT Pastor Roman's empire!) They were people proud of their heritage and some of the Roman leaders were tyrants. Rebellions against this tyranny rose up from time to time and were put down--quickly and violently. Any peace there was was tenuous at best. And the Jewish people were weary, they were hungry for God. Yearning to know that their Yahweh still loved and cared for them. When they sang their psalms in worship there was probably an ache in their hearts...and this day, a crowd of people in an unremarkable little town saw an authentic miracle!

Our Old Testament Lesson is from the Prophet Isaiah, written about 600 years or thereabouts before the time of Jesus. This particular passage was written to comfort the Jewish people who were at that time exiled in Babylon, Their temple and city of Jerusalem had been overrun and turned to rubble. They were very much feeling that God was lost to them, perhaps forever. Isaiah and other prophets of that time spoke words of compassion and comfort.

Isaiah 40:28-31

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

In the original language, here the Hebrew word for “Wait”, means to wait with expectation, to anticipate, and also to wait with! So when we wait, anticipating The Lord's works, knowing that God is indeed never far...we are comforted! We remember that God is the one who was, and is, and ever shall be. The one who gives power to the faint, strength to the powerless. If we wait, knowing God is in control, we will be renewed like an eagle!

One winter day, one of those crazy windy days, I was driving across the Portland bridge. My car was shuddering from the wind... and as I left the house I saw a bird try to fly and get blown back and it gave up. But over the river, there was a bald eagle flying just as if it were a calm spring day! It was stunning to see, this huge bird, flying into the 35-40 mph wind, like nobody's business!

Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, and mount up with wings like eagles.

When we spend time with the Lord, in worship, around a table with other believers, working together with community organizations, and working together to bring God's peace, wholeness and healing to our city and beyond.
We hear each other's stories and grow in compassion. And our churches and community will arise and be renewed as well! When we wait with the Lord, the Lord is waiting with us, and the Spirit moves us to action.

Author Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil,
God wants all people to do well, to be whole, and to have dignity. All persons are made in God’s image – we can see something of Jesus in every person. Compassion is gut wrenching, we can’t do everything, but we can do something.”

In this morning's Upper Room, the devotional writer shared that his Grandson for his 8th birthday, wanted “A party with presents. Everybody brings a present, and then we will take all the presents to the homeless shelter for the kids who don’t have any gifts for their birthdays.” And that is exactly what they did. The boy said it was the most fun he had ever had on his birthday.
THIS is a story of compassion that heals. Helping each other helps heal others, and ourselves at the same time!

As the body of Christ, we can arise like eagles and accomplish miracles! We can help feed and clothe people. We can help families have a safe place to sleep and a good meal while getting back on their feet financially.
When we draw closer to Jesus and each other, we experience the love and compassion that is the hallmark of Jesus' life and ministry.

This Lenten season, we from many churches and backgrounds are coming together to worship, and we work together to help with Caritas and Hands of Faith, among other groups. We work to bring a bit of love and compassion, by sharing our time and effort and yes, our finances. Because we know how blessed we are! Many of us have been through incredibly tough times ourselves, and know that one sure way to help ourselves is to help another. Let's keep on sharing together, spending time in the word, spreading a bit of the Kingdom.

I have one more story for you.
There is a powerful letter written by a pastor in Africa some years back. It was found in his belongings after he had been killed for refusing to renounce his faith in Jesus. Quoted by Brennan Manning in The Signature of Jesus.

"I'm a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been
cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I'm a
disciple of His and I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or
be still.

"My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is
secure. I'm done and finished with low living, sight walking, small
planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane
talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.

"I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions,
plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, or first, or tops, or
recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His
presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit

"My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be
narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable
and my mission is clear.

"I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned
back, deluded or delayed.

"I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence
of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy,
ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of

"I won't give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored
up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all
know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He'll have no problems recognizing me. My banner will be clear!"

This is a person of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is someone who intimately knew Jesus as Lord. This is model of faith we can aspire to. Let us live by faith, lean on Jesus' presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit
power., to Arise and bring God's Shalom to our city and beyond!