Monday, August 14, 2017

Don't Be Afraid

an installation from "Quilting the Lectionary 2014-2015"

Matthew 14:22-33

Last week we heard the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 with loaves and fish.  It begins with “when Jesus heard this, he left Nazareth by boat and went to a deserted place to be alone.”  (I wasn’t here, I was on vacation, so forgive me if Pastor Steve brought this to your attention, but) I noticed that the lectionary doesn’t say what Jesus had heard that made him leave Nazareth.  Jesus had just been told that his beloved cousin, John the Baptizer, the one who proclaimed his coming into ministry, the one who had baptized him had been beheaded.  And he had been rejected his own community in Nazareth.  “Prophets are not without honor except in their hometowns”.

Jesus was going away to grieve.  

But 5000 families followed him(!), and that was last week’s story.  This week, we continue…after the 5000 families were fed with plenty of leftovers, Jesus put his disciples in a boat and sent them ahead while he climbed a mountain by himself to pray.

And to grieve.

In the middle of the night, as a storm was brewing, Jesus walks across the water toward his friends.  They see him, and, predictably, they are terrified.   These disciples.  Always terrified.  Jesus sees their terror and calls out…the most repeated phrase in the whole Bible…Jesus shouts, “Do not be afraid”

Peter, quicker to believe in ghosts than in the supernatural powers of Jesus, throws out a challenge, “if it's really you, Jesus, tell me to walk to you.”  And Jesus says, “come on!”

But then the wind really picks up, and Peter gets scared again, and he begins to sink.  So he throws out his hand, and he shouts “save me!”

And of course, Jesus does.  He throws out his hand and catches Peter, and they both safely make it into the boat.  

Jesus says, “you have so little faith!  Why did you doubt?”  And of course, Peter doesn’t say anything, or if he did the gospel writer didn’t think it worthy of writing down.

And so generations of priest and pastors have tried to preach this lesson with no answer.

I have heard some mighty fine sermons preached about how we have to “get out of the boat”…step out of our comfort zones, serve our neighbors.  And I’ve heard some excellent sermons about how this story shows that we just have to keep our eyes on Jesus and all will be well.

But this week, I heard a former professor of mine (teachers, we students really do listen to everything you say…that is both a compliment and a directive to say good and holy and helpful things)…I heard a former professor of mine say, “if this is primarily a faith story, where exactly does Peter loose faith?” 

It’s not when he becomes frightened, because many of us do things through our faith even when we are terrified.  Rather, my professor contends, it’s the moment Peter cries out, “save me!”  He begs for help…as though he didn’t already believe that Jesus would do the saving without being asked.

I’ve struggled with that this week, because I think of all the things I assume people will do for me that I ask them to do anyway…especially with my kids “let the dog out,” “replace that toilet paper roll,” “put away your laundry”…and I think about how i’ve always just sort of viewed it as conversation…but maybe they receive it as lack of faith…nagging as lack of faith?  

But is that even the same thing?

I don't know for sure.

But what I do know is that I wish I had witnessed that walking on water event, because I feel like there are so many details left out.  Like, how determined was Peter to walk to Jesus?  Did he hesitate?  Or did he just hop right out of that boat?  As he sank, did he keep trying to walk?  Did he stay still like they tell you to do in quicksand?

I wrote an outline for this sermon before I left for vacation…did the text study…thought it all the way through…figuring I’d write it Friday night on the plane or yesterday morning before our women’s retreat…easy-peasy.  I even sent Pastor Steve a text message about how confident I was about how easy it would be.  We’re talking about the saving work of Jesus, our role in faith or belief, and then our union with Christ.

But then I heard the news from Charlottesville, VA.  And I had to start over.

An alt-right rally was scheduled to be held last night.  It was repugnant, for certain, but it was constitutional.  We do protect a right to free speech in this nation, whether we agree with that speech or not.

But then Friday night, Christians gathered in church to pray ahead of the rally and sang “Wade in the Water”…with verses rewritten to reflect the history of racial injustice and the slow steps toward racial reconciliation, members of the KKK with torches marched through the campus of the University of Virginia, surrounded the church, shouted chants from the Nazi regime in Germany along with other hate-filled chants and slogans and slurs so that Blacks, Jews, and queer folk were and are terrified.  

Yesterday, a white supremacist has driven into the crowds.  So far, one person has died and nineteen others have been hospitalized due to that act of terror.  And two Virginia State Patrol officers have lost their lives in an effort to maintain public safety.  

I have friends who are there.  One in particular a Lutheran pastor.  I have seen photographs of folks with head injuries, respiratory distress due to chemical inhalation, and faces of children trapped in that church Friday night who know this hate is directed at them.

They are terrified.

And less you think this is something that only happens “over there”…as we are all want to do…yesterday in Travis Park, folks rallied in defense of the kinds of statues that continue to glorify this hatred…statues that belong in a museum but not in the public square.

In the last month, I have heard more anti-semitic/anti-Jewish language than I have heard in decades right here in San Antonio.

And I am terrified.

Because people that I love beyond measure are Jewish, are Black, are Queer…and their sanctity, their value, their belovedness is not dependent on their relationship with me.  It is from the One who created them, loves them, calls them “good.”  And what I have learned is that hate breeds hate and that acceptance of hate toward one kind of person invites hate towards all kinds of people.  

And if we live in union with Jesus, we cannot tolerate hate.  Because we recognize that all people are made in the image of God.

So, even though you may be terrified about what folks might say if you call out hatred, even if you are terrified that someone might not like you, or might not frequent your place of business, or might egg your car…or worse…speak up.  Do it anyway.

And for heaven’s sake, this week if you know someone who is being subjugated or terrorized by the hate in the world, in this nation, in this city…call them.  Ask how you can support them.  That will help ease their terror…or a least let them know they have an ally and someone praying for them.

Get out of the boat.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.  And don’t be afraid.

In our union with Jesus, we are called to bear witness to the sanctity of all people.  And we are called to shout out “Don’t be afraid!”  And we are called to do the hard thing even when we ARE afraid because we know that God is with us…in us…in each of us…in all people.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Grace and Gift

love and grace and nourishment...all in a fuzzy package
but the giver of this sweet treat is the real gift

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

A few weeks ago, we heard Jesus say, “I will be with you always even to the end of the age.”  This week we hear him say, “come to me and I will give you rest.”  And I’ve been reflecting this week on grace and the longevity of God and on God’s faithfulness…even when we can’t or won’t see it.  How so many times God works in the dark of the tomb to bring forth resurrection.  How God shows up again and again….because God loves us.  And not because we’ve done anything in particular but because God has decided to create us, love us, call us good.  

God has been making this promise to God’s people since Exodus (33:14) when God said to Moses, “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.”  

Now remember, at this time, the people of Israel were a grumbly bunch.  They had been liberated from Egypt and had been complaining ever since.  They complained about food and water.  They had been given the Law as gift and guidance from God and had worshiped a golden calf instead.  And yet, as the people asked, they received…grace upon grace…manna in the desert, water from a stone, and a second chance at receiving the Law…those rules meant to help us to live into community as a people of God.  

Grace means unearned forgiveness, radical hospitality, and unfettered love.  (Note:  unearned forgiveness does not equal ignoring bad behavior!)

I want to tell you a story that has stuck with me for the last 20 years or so.

I was a staff member at a week long youth retreat (for lack of a better word) in the Southeastern Synod.  On the day that week we were focused on grace in worship, one of the pastors on staff  Steve told a story of when he was a young boy.

Steve said he had a big sister, and as many big sister-little brother relationships were, theirs was riddled with frequent conflict and name-calling, “pest!”  “jerk”…you get the idea.  And they got a kick out of tattling on one another…seeing who could get whom in the most trouble over silly things. 

Well, their family didn’t have a whole lot of money but when his sister entered high school, and he was still in about the 5th grade, she got to have her room redecorated.  This was a very big deal.  Gone was the little girl room of pastel plaid.  A more sophisticated palette moved in.  Complete with a solid white fluffy rug…reminiscent of a teddy bear skin.  It was so soft, Steve said, that he just wanted to touch it and pet it.  Now, remember their relationship… Sister would have none of it.  Steve was banished from the room.  He was never, ever to come inside because he might get it icky or dirty or look at it sideways and ruin the rug.

But one day, his sister was gone to a friend’s house for a sleepover and Mom and Dad had gone to run a few errands and Steve found himself alone in the house with the rug beckoning from his sister’s room.  So, he tiptoed down the hall (as though the faces in the family portraits might give him away) and slipped inside his sister’s room and closed the door.  He sat down and took off his shoes and felt the soft fibers with his little boy feet.  He reclined a little and saw from the corner of his eye…a red-inked fountain pen, another “don’t touch” according to the law of his sister.  So, he lay down, stretched himself out and rolled in that luxurious stark white carpet, and decided that, in for a penny in for a pound, he would take the opportunity to draw himself a nice picture with that red pen.  But when he took the lid off, red ink exploded everywhere.  All over the rug.  Oh-no!  He tried to blot it up, but that didn’t work.  He tried to flush the stain with water, but that just spread it.  Finally he surrendered himself to the terror that was to come as his sister clobbered him and his parents grounded him for life.  He used some rags to soak up the now giant and screaming pink pool of ink water on the carpet.  Threw away the pen.  Walked out of the room.  And closed the door.  And prayed that if God would just take the stain away…well, he didn’t know what he’d do.

He went to his room, and he waited.  Eventually his sister came home.  He heard her enter her room and suck in her breath.  And he waited and waited for the scream that was sure to come.  But it never did.  Eventually, he fell asleep in his anxious waiting, and finally his mother came to fetch him for dinner.  

All through the meal.  No one said a word about the rug or about the pen.  He waited all through cleaning the kitchen after dinner and all through TV time for someone to say something, absolutely certain that a clobbering or shouting or a terrible punishment was coming.  But no one said a word about the rug or about the pen.

As he walked down the hall to brush his teeth before bed, he looked inside his sister’s room…her door was open…and he could see that she had simply rearranged the furniture.  That giant horrible stain was now hidden under her bed.  And she never, ever told their parents what he had done. 

I think we receive God’s grace (or at least are aware of it) most frequently in relationship with other people.  Now, I know you love this…but think of a time (it doesn’t have to be the most traumatic or life-changing time) when you experienced the grace of God through another human being.  Turn to your neighbor and share that experience. 


Now there are two allegorical ways to look at the story I told you about my friend Steve neither is more right than the other.

One is that his sister is God, and Steve is us, and if you look at it that way you can see that God chooses not to punish us or to hand us over to be punished…even though we do the things we are told by the Law not to do.  Grace handed out undeservedly by God.

The second one is a little more parallel to the gospel lesson for today.  Jesus says, take my yoke upon you for my yoke is easy…. What if Steve and his sister are yoked to one another?  What if his burden is halved because his sister shares it?  

What if sometimes grace is handed out by God in the form of someone with whom you can share life’s burdens and labors…with someone or a whole body of someones who adore you and who will risk themselves and their comfort to be with you in the thick of it?

Look back at the person with whom you shared your story a moment ago.  That person who is holding your sacred story is an undeserved, unearned gift of grace from God.  That person is holding your story and offering you welcome, hospitality.  That person is just one of many in your life who will do that for you and who will do that with you for others.

We are given grace upon grace by one who calls us to take God’s yoke and to bear one another’s burdens.  It is in sharing our lives that we really seek God.  It is in serving one another together (even when we feel like the ancient Israelites…grumbly from all that desert wandering) that our burdens become light.

Hear the Good News, people of God:  you are freed, you are forgiven, you are loved beyond measure.  Here in this place of grace you are welcome exactly as you are.  Seek God in your neighbor.  Serve God in the faces of others.  And Jesus promises that your burden will be light.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Conflict and Baptismal Call

Matthew 10:24-39 & Romans 6:1b-11
They tell us preachers to tell the truth, to be true to the text, and to preach good news, but it surely doesn’t look like there is any good news in the gospel lesson today and the text is a little alarming, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  I wrestled with it all week long.  Read commentaries.  Wrote obsessively in my journal.  Talked it over with friends from different faith American Baptist, a few Roman Catholics, a Reformed Jew.  Talked it over with other Lutheran pastors.  Complained to a few people, too.  And many of the people I complained to this week suggested (in one case implored) that I preach primarily on the Romans text. 

And really, Paul with his, “we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” is certainly easier to hear and to preach on than Jesus with his, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

To tell you the truth, I am a little afraid to preach on this text, because even though I understand what Jesus is calling us to do, even though I would and have and will put my life on the line to save and to serve others, it is terrifying to preach the call of Jesus to people whom I love…because what Jesus says is hard and what Jesus asks of us is uncomfortable and sometimes scary, and historically, when I have said these things in the light, folks whom I love have gotten mighty angry with me.

And that’s exactly what Jesus promises in this text.  He is talking about the kinds of conflict that will arise when we are fully committed to God’s way of mutuality.  We’ll find ourselves at odds with the public sphere, with the institution of the church, with our friends, with our families, with our loved ones.  But when we are committed to God’s way of mutuality, we are fully committed to the understanding of God’s love, grace, and shalom in everyday life, in every aspect of human relationship: public, private, economic, political, personal and communal, body, mind and environment.

If we are committed to this way of life to this kind of life for ALL people, then it’s going to require a little uncomfortableness on our part.  It will require some stretching and some bending and some giving up and moving over and maybe some shouting in the public square…and that’s especially hard to do when we are aware that we are suffering, too.  (Or you know, if we’re introverts…that whole spontaneous public speaking thing can be challenging.)

But here’s the thing:  I think we all too often avoid the tough conversations and shy away from what Jesus is really saying in order to stay comfortable.  And too often, our comfort comes at high cost to someone else.

I think that within the confines of Christianity in the United States, we have attempted to domesticate Jesus.  If we keep Jesus in the box of healer, comforter, friend, divine guy who came to take away our sin and make us feel good…well that Jesus, the calm one in the landscape painting with sheep at his side and rosy cheeked, blue-eyed children in his lap, that Jesus is so much easier to live with than the guy who comes bearing a sword. Keeping Jesus tame helps keep us comfortable.

And it’s not that those things aren’t true or that that image of Jesus is bad or wrong.  It’s just that it’s incomplete.

If we examine Jesus through the gospels and through the lens of history, what we know to be true is that, in addition to those things, Jesus was a religious public leader, a nonviolent revolutionary who sought to fundamentally reorient the way people lived with each other and themselves. Jesus called systems and rulers into account.  He put his life and his reputation on the line for the sake of those whom the world called “bad.”  He got angry and threw things. 

If God took on flesh and walked among us today, in this nation, I wonder what she would think and say and do.  Would she calmly look around and tell us that she understands that globally we’re doing the best that we can?  Or would she flip over tables and shout because week after week our best intentions still leave children hungry, refugees displaced, and millions without access to healthcare.

Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on state, national, or international policy.  I don’t know exactly what the answers are to the myriad troubles and evils that plague this nation and this world.  But I do know that if one child is hungry, Jesus weeps.  And I do know that if one person dies because there is no place which will offer him welcome, Jesus weeps.

And I also know that it is my job as a non-violent, public Christian leader to shine the light on the things that we are called by Christ to attend to.  Even if I'm afraid someone will be angry with me for doing it.  And that shows up in the gospel lesson today, Jesus says, “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops”

 And it is our jobs as followers of Jesus, as Christians, to do the thing that is before us.  In recovery communities, we often say, “do the next right thing.”  Sometimes that next right thing is scary.  Sometimes we wonder if sharing means we are going to go without.  Sometimes amplifying the voices of those who are wounded by this culture of domination or lending our voices to the voiceless puts us in a position to be wounded, too.

Because the truth is, when you speak out for the weak, voiceless, oppressed, marginalized, and vulnerable, you are aligning yourself with them and making yourself vulnerable.  People will use that vulnerability to say you’re wrong or too-sensitive or bad.  It’s gonna sting.  It’s going to hurt.  Do it anyway.

Because it is our baptismal calling.  Remember hearing Romans?  “we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”

Newness of life…a new way of living.  A reformed and reforming world where all people are loved, valued, cared for beloved…God’s way of mutuality.

As I pondered all of this this week, I felt overwhelmed.  And I don’t know about you, but when I get overwhelmed, I can shut down.  Become ineffective.  But then today my friend Kevin Strickland reminded me of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

People of God, hear the Good News:  you are freed, forgiven, and beloved.

Now, in response to your baptism, do the thing in front of you.  Do the next right thing.  Do your little bit of good.  For the sake of the Gospel.  For the sake of the world.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

keep singing

keep singing
               light into darkness
               hope into hearts
               love into the world

keep singing even if you have to borrow
               somebody's words
               somebody's tune
               somebody's breath

keep singing
               until my heart becomes yours
               until your heart becomes mine
               until the world knows we all are one

               one heart
               one hope
               one humanity


keep singing

(originally published on 6.13.16 in response to the shootings at Pulse in Orlando)

Monday, June 12, 2017

God in Relationship

the book read for the children's message at APLC on Holy Trinity Sunday

Holy Trinity Sunday
Matthew 28:16-20
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
a sermon for the people
of Abiding Presence Lutheran Church

“Three in One and One for all!”  This is what my imagination comes up with as I think about explaining the Trinity, and of course, it does’t completely capture God in three persons.  In the course of my life in the church, I have seen (and used myself in my youth ministry days) a variety of imperfect, incomplete, or downright laughable “illustrations”…none of them quite hit the mark.  Let’s see, there is shell + white + yolk = egg, or peel + flesh + core = apple, or that perennial favorite, steam + liquid + ice = water.  The water analogy is another version of the “I am always only ever me.  Yet, at the same time, I am ‘mom’ to my children, ‘daughter’ to my parents, ‘sister’ to my siblings. One person, three ways of being known." But that kind of thinking is called modalism.  And it is heresy!

How are we to think of the Trinity then?  Excellent question.  And the truth is I have no idea.  Like much about God, the Trinity is a mystery…one beyond our human imagination.  Unencompassed by even the very, very clever (and completely original, I’m sure) “Three in One and One for all!”

In our lessons for today: Genesis tells of God the Spirit moving on the waters and God the Creator creating the world by speaking it into being; and since the Gospel according to St John says that God the Son is the Word of God and that “in the beginning was the WORD”, we who are self-professed Jesus-as-Son followers can find traces of the Trinity in the first creation account.

The New Testament and the Gospel readings are a little more explicit; Matthew refers to baptizing in the name of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” and 2 Corinthians refers to the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.  There’s no “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” language here.  Rather there is a focus more on community, love, and grace than on the names or titles of the three in one.

Nowhere in scripture do we find the word “trinity” or an explanation of how God is both three and one at the same time.

So maybe rather than thinking about the “how” of the Trinity and risking a burning at the stake as heretics (just kidding.  I’m pretty sure we don’t do that anymore), but just maybe we should be thinking about and praying about the impact that the Trinity has on our lives, on our reality.

The Trinity shows us God in relationship…in God’s way of mutuality.

And that relationship is ever changing, ever growing, ever expanding to invite absolutely everyone to relationship with God and with one another.  Where each is valuable, “good”, precious, beloved by God.  Where each seeks to value, love, and call one another “good”.

I believe that we are called to God’s way of mutuality.

“Jesus' believed that God's way for human beings to live, to live with each other and the planet that is in our care was emerging and in-breaking. He taught that while the kingdom of domination was all around us and in us, that God was moving to change that. Jesus invited disciples to join him in announcing and living within God's Reign of Mutuality.
Everyone was invited: Jews, Greeks, Romans, gentiles, Samaritans, the poor, the rich, the blind, lost, the confused, those who were too certain of themselves, women, men, children and so on.

Everyone is still invited. Everyone.

In God's Reign of Mutuality we are invited to practice Baptismal Awareness: to integrate into our conscious lives the paradoxes and contradictions of human life. This means that human beings can learn to reduce the teeter-totter of dominance and submission and learn to hold one another as equals and to remember that we are beloved of God. Paul speaks to this in his beautiful imagery of the church as the body of Christ.

In domination culture the ideal human is a powerful one. In mutuality culture, the ideal human is one who embraces life-as-it-is and who seeks to hold others as equals with differing gifts. Mutuality culture can be understood as an open circle with the cross in the middle. The cross represents God's willingness to join us in the midst of our humanity and to suffer with us rather than to dominate us. Jesus whole life reminds us of God's self-giving love.”[1]

God exists in community, and God invites us into that community, too, into a family of equals who share a common mission and a common life but who exist in that community as individual members of creation uniquely beautiful but who are more brilliant together than they could ever be on their own.

If we think about God this way:  God in relationship, then it makes our reality more understandable…we are made in the image of God and God needs community…of course we need community, too!  A community centered around our God…who created us, loves us, and calls us into life with God…living in God’s way of mutuality in which no one person or group of persons is more valuable or beloved than another…but in which we are called to love and to serve and to invite the whole world.

as my Goddaddy says,

“Our calling today, on this Holy Trinity Sunday, is neither figuring out the Trinity nor explaining it.

Our calling is living the Trinity in our lives and in the holy and loving community we call the church. (and inviting others into God’s Reign of Mutuality)

Our calling is to join with one another in caring for creation.

Our calling is to take up our cross and follow the Christ in the work of spreading God’s love in the world.

Our calling is to pray together and to be open to the leading of God’s Spirit on our lives, come what may.”[2]


Monday, June 5, 2017

skyward bound

Related image

fireflies rising from their sleep
under the weeping willow

each drop of sorrow
was buried

and resurrected
to joy and light and life

on this summer evening
skyward bound

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Remember Whose You Are

"Three Months" oil painting by the author

I had the pleasure and privilege of attending a portion of Festival of Homiletics here in San Antonio last week.  While there, I was reminded of the rule number 1 in sermon preaching:  “don’t write yourself into it, pastor.”  

Oops.  and here we go…

I used to get up every morning, make a cup of coffee, and read the news before I roused my kiddos from their slumber.  You know, in the early quiet hours, I felt like I could get a handle on what was going on in the world.  Make a plan of action and a plan for prayer…figure out which way I needed to drive into work or to school to avoid traffic.

But over the last couple of years or so, I had a harder and harder time with that practice.  I found that if I read the news first, my days began in anxiety.  A dark cloud of worry or frustration or even anger would build with that first headline and continue to color my day.  I was rushing my kids and sometimes snapping at them as the pressure I felt to connect and to deal with the external world kept me from being present with them.  And even after they left for school, I would be left cranky and anxious and feeling like the world might implode at any moment.

And truthfully, it wasn’t just the news.  I was coming to terms with the slow destruction of my marriage and the fact that I couldn’t “fix it” on my own.  And that I had run out of ways to ask for help in its restoration.  I was worried for my children if I stayed.  I was worried for my children if I left.  I was worried for myself if I stayed.  I was worried for James, my former spouse, if I left.  

Beyond that even, I was wrestling with the church…how I could be affirmed by the ELCA as a candidate for the roster of Word and Sacrament and how I genuinely felt called to be a pastor and for the first time was willing to answer that call and how other pastors and deacons and people to whom I had ministered expressed their joy at my approval and assured me of my call to this role but how there seemed to be no place for me in a congregation…therefore no place for me as a rostered leader in this church body.

The anxiety and the worry were killing me.  I was becoming physically ill.  I even developed a medical condition which will never be cured…to be sure, I was genetically predisposed but it was triggered by the stress of it all. 

It was a time of high anxiety for me.  

Although many of those worries have evolved or resolved, in some ways, it still is a bit of an anxious time.  The headlines haven’t gotten any better.  (But I no longer read them before my children leave for school.)  Although our marriage is over, there are other relational things to worry about:  do the kids talk to their dad enough?  How is James doing really?  He has been my best friend since I was 15, and I love him deeply…is he really doing alright?  How do I manage the deep loneliness that creeps in each night around 10pm?  And when will that go away?  Did I actually remember to pay the electric bill?  And although I mean it more deeply than I can express when I say “saying ‘yes!’ to this call is the best thing I’ve ever done,” every time I think I know which end is up around here, life tosses us another curve ball. 

You see, somewhere along the way, I came to believe that I am in control of everything.  That I am responsible for everyone.  That these things are “no big deal” and that “I’ve got this.  I can do it.  I don’t need any help, thank you very much for asking.”

Too often, I believe that I am in control.

I wonder if any of you are suffering from that mistake, too.

Life in relationship is difficult.  Families can be as challenging as they are joyful.  Jobs can be stressful.  Relationships with neighbors can be tricky especially when those neighbors don’t look like, act like, think like us…or for heaven’s sake…why don’t they bring their barking dog in at night?  The world appears to be fracturing around us.  Political and ideological infighting in Washington, DC.  Terror attacks in Britain.  Anti-Muslim violence here in the United States.  And here in Texas, we are looking at state legislation that is as hateful as it is in violation of the Civil Rights Act as it seeks to deny the humanity of our transgender siblings.  I could go on…but I suspect I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

Being human is hard.

And we want to “fix it” all.

But we just can’t.

And that idea of control…that we are ultimately in charge, that we are God…well, we’ve known since the book of Genesis that that idea comes from Satan…sometimes as a snake, sometimes as a roaring lion…but from Satan all the same.  It is an ultimately evil idea.  And that idea of “us in control” will devour and destroy us.  It will destroy us individually…one by one…and corporately…all at once…as we seek to control everything in our reach…even one another.

The apostle Peter says, “resist.”  Stop.  We have to stop.

All that is ours to control is our own behavior and our reactions to rest of the world.  We must give our anxieties and our worries to God.  They are simply too big for us to handle on our own.    Peter invites the people of the house churches in Asia Minor and, I believe, also us, to cast all our anxieties upon our powerful and loving God who will provide all the care they, and we, need.

But giving our anxieties to God doesn’t mean we cease to do the work.  It doesn’t mean we “check out”, right?  We are bound up in the Trinity, after all, being members of the Body of Christ.  So we are called through our baptisms to respond to the world in love and in word and in deed…not because we have to in order to be saved but because it is the good and joyful response to the Good News that through Christ, we are freed, forgiven, and loved beyond measure.

We are called to serve.  We are called to walk together, as Sue is promising to do in here life of Stephens Ministry.  We are called to bear one another’s burdens and to share our own…to ultimately lighten the load.  We seek God knowing that God is ever present, and we serve others understanding that our God lives right there…in the lives of our neighbors…but in our lives, too.  God who is so intimately involved in our very breath and being that God is continually creating us and calling us to remain authentically who God intends us to be.

I served my internship in part in a joint Episcopal and ELCA mission start congregation Catacomb Churches which was a congregation of house churches.  One of the foundational understandings of that congregation is that Jesus practiced and taught three major disciplines:  spiritual practices, critique of worldview through theology and Bible study, and the active practice of LOVE.  

And here, I would like to talk a little about the first one.  Jesus took time to pray individually, to fast, to pray with his disciples, and to participate in the worship life as a faithful member of the People of Israel - to remember who he was as God’s beloved child. And Jesus invites us to do the same.

One of the easiest and most helpful to use during times of high-anxiety has been (for me at least) the practice of the Examen.  It is based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius and it’s intent is to help us recognize what gives us deep joy and deep meaning, as my internship supervisor would say, “it’s the best clue to the kind of person God is creating in us.”  But it also can help us identify what exactly is bothering us.  It can help us to name our dragons, or our snakes, or our lions.  It can help us identify our anxieties and what, exactly, we should be handing over to God.  It can help us give up our illusion of control and to rest in the knowledge that we don’t have to have it all together, that God is God and we don’t have to be.

We’re going to practice that for a moment now.  (don’t worry.  you don’t need to share with your neighbor this time…although, I bet if you did, your neighbor would hold those stories of yours as sacred.  I just bet they would.)

But for now, let’s go through the Examen together.

1. Remember your baptismal identity, your authentic self, making the sign of the cross and saying, “God accepts all of me”
2. Take some long, slow breaths 
3. Ask yourself:
• When did I feel fully alive today?
• When did I feel life draining away?
4. Notice over time what gives you life and do
more of that.
5. Pray the Lord’s Prayer
6. Remember your baptismal identity, making
the sign of the cross and saying, “God is creating me”

Alright, folks.  Come on back.  

Over time, I imagine you will discover what it is that makes you feel anxious and that you will be able to hand that over to God.  Over time, you will be able to take notice of what gives you life.  Once you do, do more of that stuff.

In times of anxiety or crisis, remember who you are.  Remember whose you are.  You are a freed and forgiven child of our Heavenly Mother.  A member of the Body of Christ.  And you are loved beyond measure.  Just as you are.  Just as you are being created to be.