Month: August 2017

The Sinking Feeling: Sermon on Matthew 14:22-33

 

Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. – Soren Kierkegaard

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Have you ever had a sinking feeling?  It’s phenomenon that happens in the stomach that  we can’t control but we can  always remember the last time we experienced it– when the phone rang, or the report card came, or news came on and we feel like all of the blood has come out of our head and we feel sort woozy and well, out of control.

In all of the times I have had a sinking feeling the primary experience in all of them was a feeling of vulnerability.  I didn’t know what was going to happen and I was scared.  Chemically, what is happening, when you have a sinking feeling,  is that blood is leaving your stomach, because your brain has gone into survival mode and doesn’t think you need to eat anymore.  It thinks you need to survive and that means you either need to fly or fight.

Sinking feelings are o.k. to have once in a while and should be expected in moments like– the first day of school  or the moment the doctor comes in with the test results, or unexpected life event takes place.  It’s when that sinking feeling starts happening all of the time, when it becomes more often than not, that people can get a little twitchy.

That’s the situation the disciples were in in the 14th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.  By the time we get to the end of the 14th chapter of Matthew, the disciples are twitchy. Here’s why:

At the beginning of the chapter, something awful has happened.  Something that made them realize they weren’t as safe as they thought.  Something that made the disciples realize that being a disciple of Jesus Christ could get you killed. Remember that they are following a Rabbi who fighting the establishment, and the establishment just pushed back, big time.  Do you know what happened?  They beheaded John the Baptist. 

They killed Jesus’ cousin.  They sent out a warning shot to stand down, because this is what happens when you mess with the Roman Empire.  Imagine the sinking feeling they had when  the heard the news that he was killed.  Imagine Jesus’ grief and vulnerability when he learned of the news.  It is this context of deep grief and shock that the disciples try to get away. Matthew says they retreated.  You could say that the sinking feeling resulted in flight.

Sometimes we look at the atrocities of the world and we read stories so horrendous you can’t help but wonder how in the world could something like that happen?  Or, even how could God let it happen?  Or where is Jesus when the world appears to be falling apart?  And the news and all that it is in it, can make someone just want to fly away and live on the island of Denial.

Sometimes there is too much chaos.

But, here’s the bad news, being a follower of Jesus Christ, desiring a spiritual life that is rich and meaningful cannot be achieved by running away. Henri Nouwen put it this way:  “The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it.”

And so as the disciples try to move into a retreat, they find they are being followed by the pain of the world.  Five thousand people come to this barren land.  They are hungry and thirsty and sick and broken and Jesus looks out at all of those people and has pity on them and the disciples look out at all of those people and they have a sinking feeling and think there is no way we can address all of these needs.  Jesus says “that’s right,  you can’t, but I can,  let me work through you” and by his miracle, the disciples are able to feed the five thousand.   Sometimes when we have a sinking feeling, instead of running away, we think, “No way. It’s impossible there is no way I can do this.”  The sin here isn’t in the defeatist attitude. The sin is thinking that we are the ones who perform miracles in the first place.

So when we are in chaos, or see our brothers and sisters in chaos, we do not flee, we feed. We clothe. We share. We clean. We move. We give a hand. We look out on to sea of people who are hungry, frightened, and uncertain, just as the disciples did, and we trust that there will be enough for everyone to be fed, and by the grace of God and the hands of the disciples, they will be.

At last we come to the end of the 14th chapter of Matthew, and why a I say that at this point the disciples are now, twitchy.  They have had their share of sinking feelings.  They have witnessed violence they never thought they would see and they have seen 5000 people crying out for help.

So Jesus  put the disciples on a boat and he goes off to pray. – What can go wrong?

All of the disciples are in a boat, out to sea, sort of like how all of the church is the body of Christ in the world,  and a storm comes upon them and they once again get that sinking feeling, although this time they really might sink and they are really uncertain they are going to make it to shore, or survive and then they look out into the sea and see what appears to be a ghost moving toward them and now they are really afraid. More afraid than when they heard about John the Baptist, more uncertain than they were when they fed 5000 people.

And Jesus speaks out and says, “take heart it is I, do not be afraid.”  And Peter, who is known as the Rock, the Father of the Church says to Jesus, “Lord if it’s you let me come to you… ” Which is  strange thing to say.  Couldn’t he have asked for a safer litmus test?  He says “let me come out on the water” and Jesus says, “sure come out” and Peter starts walking toward him, full of faith and hope and then he suddenly gets that sinking feeling, Um this impossible.  It’s impossible to walk on water. What if…. What if it’s not Jesus. What if I’m crazy, after all I just stepped out of a boat. What if I drown?  What if he can’t save me?  And Peter sinks into the Ocean and this is my favorite part,  Jesus, reaches out his hand and saves him.  That gets me every time.  He reaches out his hand and saves him.  You know that tells me?  That tells me that Jesus wasn’t very far away from him at all, he was close enough to reach out and grab him and bring him back to the boat.

And then Jesus says incredulously, “you of little faith, why do you doubt?”  These are words none of us want to hear.  Why can’t I have more faith?  Why can’t I trust God?  Why do I let fear take over my faith?   I believe I am in God’s hands, but when I feel vulnerable or afraid, I start to sink. When have faith, but then when turn on the news, or get sick, or lose a friend and we  start to sink.  What if Peter hadn’t sunk?  What if he had just slung his legs over the side and  just walked on out there and given Jesus a high five?

That may have been an exciting story, but that wouldn’t have been our story. Like Peter we have faith and we have doubt.  We have hope and we have fear.  They are not mutually exclusive.  We are both, people of faith and doubt. They exist at the same time, allowing us to rise and fall in they storms of our life.

So take heart, Jesus gets it.  He does not judge your doubt, or punish you for it, he only asks you why?  Why do you doubt?  Think on that for a while… when you have doubts  in your faith life, why are you doubting, is it because you are angry, or hungry, or broken, or sad or disillusioned or anxious?   Jesus doesn’t condemn Peter, rather he says, “take heart….”

Madelyn Lengle – “As long as Peter didn’t remember that we human beings have forgotten how to walk on water, he was able to do it.”

It suggests that at one point we were able to do it and have forgotten.

What are all of things we have forgotten? –  Have we forgotten that Jesus  has always asked  his disciples to do impossible things and his disciples continue to do impossible things every day?

God is constantly asking people to impossible things.

He asked Mary to be the mother of God.

He asked Moses to change the course of history.

Jesus asked the disciples to feed 5000 people

Sell everything and give it to the poor.  Impossible

Love your neighbor – even your social media neighbor. Impossible.

What are impossible things that people try?

We fight diseases that have non existent cures. Impossible

We go to Haiti – the poorest place on the earth and try bring clean water and stop cholera. Impossible

We believe in forgiveness.  Impossible.

We believe in mercy. That our salvation comes from grace. Impossible

We believe in prayer. That we can personally speak to God. impossible

Parents watch their children grow up and then they have to let  them go – impossible.

People go to cemeteries and hope they will see their loved ones again – impossible

Only a short time ago, we watch in horror as hate and fear march through the streets of Virginia and  we wondered how can this be happening? End racism in our nation? Impossible.

Now we are glued to our news footage as we see the thousands of people impacted by great flooding, and we wonder how can we serve all of these people?  Bring order out of chaos? – Impossible

And suddenly walking on water doesn’t sound so impossible when up against all these impossible things.

It is impossible unless, we hold fast to Paul’s words: “ love bears all things, believes all things,  endures all things, love never dies”

 

If you are sinking, take heart, be not afraid.  He knows the impossible thing he is calling you to do  and he will not let you sink.  Take his hand. He’s not so very far away. Amen

Lord Hear our prayer,
For those who have lost everything.
For those who are stranded
For those who are frightened
For the elderly
For the child
For the parent
For the rescue worker
For the aid provider
For the police officer
For the reporter
For the lost
For the weary
For the sick
For the mentally ill

God, move your loving Spirit over each broken heart tonight and settle yourself on their shoulder. Pull them close to you and rock them back and forth, back and forth and say to them, “I will not leave you, I will not leave you, I will not leave you.”

Strengthen them for the journey ahead. May angels intercede and hope come from despair. We pray your light outshines the darkness.

Lord In your mercy. Hear our prayer.

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The Thing about Friendship

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But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”  (Ruth 1:16-17)

I have only transcribed one book from Hebrew into English, and it was the Book of Ruth.  If you are going to sit with the ancient language of Hebrew, I recommend sitting with it in the book of Ruth.  It’s a beautiful story of family and friendship, of heartache and perseverance, of sacrifice and my favorite Hebrew word, Hesed,  which means, “steadfast faithfulness.”

The thing I love most about the summer, is that it provides a season for family and old friends to re-unite.  This summer I spent a week with my cousin, whom I haven’t seen in three years and my oldest friend, whom I hadn’t seen in over five.  Being with them, it was like not an hour had past, since we had last been together.  There is something so enriching and humbling about the people who have known you forever and still love you today!  They love you just the way you are. They are like plants with deep roots.  They are planted deep in your soul and cannot be easily pulled.  They provide steadfast faithfulness.

Today is the first day of school for many of our kids and I know that the biggest concern isn’t what they will be learning in science class, but rather, who they will sit with at the lunch table, Who will be their friend?  True friends are hard to find.   Some of our children will start the year reading E.B. White’s, Charlotte’s Web, where they will read the conversation between Wilbur and Charlotte:  “Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
There is an old hymn called, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”   When I think about Jesus and his friends I remember his vulnerability and grief when Lazarus died.  I remember that he did the most human thing: he wept.  My parents are starting to lose their friends. Yesterday we learned that one of my mom’s oldest friends, and my first piano teacher passed away.  She was in a word: a gem.  It seems like every time I call home, there is another friend with a diagnosis, or has passed away.  As I watch my parents accept this stage of life, I see how deep and meaningful these friendships were.  I see that there was steadfast faithfulness in these friends who came to the hospital, kept a T-time, walked every Tuesday, met for Bible study, sent a card.  These friends are the ones who gave life to life.  True friends are hard to find.

Henri Nouwen wrote on friendship:

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

The gift of friendship is a gift from God.  It’s rare and real.  It’s steadfast faithfulness.

One final quote to sum it up:

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
― A.A. MilneWinnie-the-Pooh

Peace,

Shelly

 

 

 

A Conversation on Civility

civility

 ci·vil·i·ty \sə-ˈvi-lə-tē\“

Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. (from “Loving Your Enemies”)”

― Martin Luther King Jr.A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

We do still believe in civility. – Don’t we?

I always believed we were a society that was striving not for wealth and prosperity, but rather that humanity was always striving to be more decent, more humane, than the generation before them…that our common purpose was to not make the mistakes of the past.

Have human beings regressed?  As we have advanced in technology, have we declined in our maturity?  Maybe we weren’t ready for such technological advances.  Maybe our species can’t keep up with the rapid movement of technology and by using it, we have lost the foothold we had on the capability to reason, forgive, and have empathy.

As a species, homo-sapiens are given a conscience.  A mother duck abandons her baby duck because the duckling is weak and we say, “well, that’s nature” and we accept her behavior.  A mother human abandons her child, and we say, “that is unconscionable” and we have an emotional response to that decision and say, “that is unacceptable”.  We expect more from our fellow human beings than we do from nature, because we believe that human beings are creatures with a conscience.

I want to believe that most of us human beings around the globe want a civil society.  I want to believe that greed and economic gain is not our highest value. – Although, I confess I am becoming more cynical on that one.  I want to believe that we all want our great grand children to breathe clean air and drink clean water and be tolerant of people from other religions and cultures.  I want to believe that as a society, we care more about ethical behavior and civility and justice, then power and wealth.

I want to believe that most of us want civility, ethics and reason to be front and center of societal norms.

Those with voices of reason, calm and integrity must speak out.  If you are a mature, critical thinker, who has been watching all of the world events from the side line, reading the editorials,  watching history roll out before your eyes, and wondered, “When are the reasonable people going to show up?”  – You are it.  Ghandi  is not coming back.  You are the one the world is waiting for.  There are no other reasonable people left, but you.

If you are waiting for civility to return to our nation, it will not happen unless you fight for it.

Wringing our hands on the side line while evil pervades, puts evil in the place of power.

There are more people who identify themselves as centrists, moderates, balanced thinkers, and its time they speak up.  We have got to stop blaming, shaming, and hating those who disagree with us.  Because when they strike the nuclear bomb, nobody is going to care where you stand on an issue.  When the ice caps melt and the planet does what the scientists tell us is going to happen, no one will care if  you believed it would happen or not.

If you feel hatred, I mean real hatred, towards another person or kind of person, because you think they are evil, or destroying our country, or blind to reason, or see the world differently from you, and if you actually hate them for that, then evil has won and the plan, intended or not, to bring neighbor against neighbor is working.

We need to be more civil with one another, so that when we see true evil rear its head, we stand more united then divided.  We must name evil when we see it.

Being tolerant of other people’s point of view does not devalue your point of view.  We have somehow convinced ourselves that our world view is the only world view.  We have fallen to the lowest common denominator.

Edwin Friedman said something to the effect of, “it’s much harder to be the most mature person in an immature system, than the most immature person in a mature system.”  We are living in a immature system.  It’s time to grow up, or as my dad would say, “get your head on straight.”

We are regressing as a society.  What I mean  can be best explained by Friedman:

“By the term regression I mean to convey something far more profound than a mere loss of progress. Societal regression is about the perversion of progress into a counter-evolutionary mode. In a societal regression, evolutionary principles of life that have been basic to the development of our species become distorted, perverted, or actually reversed. Chief among those evolutionary principles are:  self-regulation of instinctual drive;   adaptation to strength rather than weakness;    a growth-producing response to challenge;    allowing time for maturing processes to evolve; and    the preservation of individuality and integrity. Emotional regression, therefore, is more of a “going down” than a “going back”; it is devolution rather than evolution. It has to do with a lowering of maturity, rather than a reduction in the gross national product. One needs to view societal regression in three dimensions, not two. At the same time that a society is “pro-gressing” technologically it can be “re-gressing” emotionally.”
― Edwin H. FriedmanA Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

Let’s work on self regulating and not just reacting with an emotional response.  Let us work toward identifying our strengths and focus on where we see possibility.  Let’s remember that the fast speed way in which we work is not necessarily the right way.  We need to slow down.  For the love of God, we need to stop just thinking about our self interests and thinking that we are more righteous than our neighbors.

We need to stop blaming, othering, triangulating, shaming, and fighting.

We need to start listening, learning, pausing, communicating, and forgiving.

In other words:  We need to get our heads on straight.

Hold Fast

20158044_10214020877984918_5158460179042341788_oHe grew up in a house that could easily catch fire.  The roof was made of tinder wood and at night mice would scurry along the roof with the makings of their nest,  forming a match that would put the house ablaze.  He would get up, sprint two miles to his grandparent’s house where he could get help.  Once he would get there, with sweat soaked pajamas, he would vomit from fear and fatigue.

He stayed in school until his was 15, working as the school janitor at night to pay his way.

When he was 17, he was forced to leave his Missouri home –too many mouth’s to feed.  They gave him a pony, his few belongings and maybe a dollar or two, and he was on his own to figure it out, survive and somehow live.   I often think about that day when he left home.  What went through his mind?  Was he sacred?  Determined?  What did he carry with him that was not seen?  Did he carry integrity?  Humor? Honesty?

This is a snapshot of my grandfather’s life and events that took place in the 1930’s.  A time that seems long ago and yet, in the grand scheme of things, was not so very long ago.  A time when everyone knew something about being poor, and childhood wasn’t worshiped and life was hard and yet somehow, ironically easier than today.  He had no cell phone. He would need both hands to catch rabbits and squirrels for supper.  He had no education beyond 8th grade.  He never took an AP class, or was on a formal athletic team, or read Jane Eyre, or typed on a computer.  He knew every tree, bird, plant, how to wrestle and take apart a car and put it back together.  He was forced to enter adulthood before childhood ended — if he ever knew childhood at all.  And when he was old, his childlike curiosity attracted everyone to him.  No one ever told him to stop being curious. Nobody worried about his future.  Nobody really worried about him at all.

Why, am I telling you this story?   Because all of us have moments in our lives when it feels like our house is on fire.  We all have moments when we have no control over what is happening to us,  or the people in our family or in our country, or in our world.  Because life brings about adversity all of the time, and it is how we live to tell the tale that matters not only for the present day, but for the future.   How we confront the fires in our life impacts how future generations will face future fires.  Because it’s easier to tell a historical story of adversity than a present day one. It’s easier to talk about someone who overcame, than to confess a story about how hard it is to overcome.

We have all been told, and I’m sure it’s true, that character building comes through the hardest moments that you mark on your time line as a time of adversity.

The time you were rejected.

The time you were lonely.

The time you failed.

The time you got up and tried again. And failed again.

The time you realized the world was bigger than your own world.

The time your heart was broken.

The time you weren’t invited.

The time you were embarrassed.

The time you felt vulnerable.

The time everything fell apart.

These are the times that build character.  It’s not the awards or the accolades or achievements.  It’s the hard stuff of life that we all have more of than we care to admit and that we try to numb or avoid or pretend aren’t occurring as we paint perfect pictures on social media and to the world. —  It’s the hard stuff that creates character.  You cannot know humility if you have not been humbled. You cannot know perseverance if there was not something you needed to overcome.  You cannot know forgiveness if you have not sinned.

If we want our kids to people of strong moral character, and I believe most of us do, then we have to accept and know that their character will only be built out of struggle, humiliation, pain, loss, disappointment and heart break.

But, dear parents,  here is my word to give you,  two words actually:  Hold Fast.  Hold Fast.  I know this parenting journey is a rocky road. I know you look at your kid and think, “Will they be o.k.? Will they overcome that friendship that has gone sour, or that challenging subject, or the pressure to fit in, or whatever obstacle they are facing?”  The answer is “No, of course they won’t overcome it. They will face it, deal with it, grieve it, grapple with it, and then and only then will they overcome it.  And you will find that they have new skin on and they have weathered the storm and they are better person because they went through it.  So, hold fast. Hold Fast.”

Everyone one of us has a story of a relative who found themselves in places that were not of their choosing and they had to decide how to  survive and persevere.  We stand on their shoulders.  We need to believe that our kids are as capable of overcoming adversity as those who came before us were.  Indeed, we need to believe that we are as capable of overcoming adversity as our ancestors were.  We need to accept that really challenging, awful things will happen in our kid’s lives and in our lives, and instead of fearing them, we need to welcome them, because it’s the struggle that will work the muscle of faith.  It’s the struggle that will build compassion.  It’s the struggle that will make a person of character.

Let’s hope and pray that we adults can pass the character test we are facing  today, so that our children will some day tell our story of how we confronted the fires in our world, and overcame. If we want our kids to be grounded in strong moral character, and I believe most of us do, then we have to remember our humanity.  We have to remember where we came from. We have to remember the people whose shoulders we stand.

Hold Fast.