God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Good News Can't be Stopped

 The Call to Discipleship in The Gospel of Mark, Day 16

7 Jesus departed with his disciples to the lake, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; 8hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. 9He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; 10for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.11Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’ 12But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.     Mark 3:7-12
        Jesus has had a rough week. Every time he turned around he was challenged about his ministry and then those challengers get together to try to get rid of him. So Jesus returned to the lake. A place where people heard the word of God and followed. And even though Jesus is regrouping, the word of God cannot be stopped. The net has been cast, the Good News is being spread and the people gather. The people come from near and far, they are gathering around seeking to touch him and be healed.  
       Jesus seems to be in a strange place. He knows of the plot against him and tries to withdraw, but the crowds follow. Even with the crowds, he seems to want to get away from the need and tells them to have a boat ready. And with those who recognize him as the Son of God - he orders them not to speak, not to talk. The very ones who are considered evil are the ones who name Jesus for his identity and connection to God - the Holy One of Israel, the Son of God. Even with Jesus rattled, the word of the Good News continues to spread God's dawning kingdom can't be stopped. The Good News will spread and the people will come.  
       So today, people say they love Jesus but hate the church. Is part of the problem that we don't preach Jesus, we water down the Good News and make it compatible with our lives? We play down those parts that trouble us and call us to live and be differently. But when the Good News is shared, when Jesus' word and actions are shared the kingdom grows, the crowds gather. Do we need to be more honest about the Good News, teaching the hard parts, the parts that inspire and challenge? Do we need to live like we truly believe what the Gospel tells us?

Prayer Practice:
In the book Unbinding Your Heart, there is a prayer practice by Martha Grace Reece that I invite you to try today. I want you to find a set of stairs. On each step, stop and ask God who or what you should pray for. Pray. Take another step and pray again. Listen for the Spirit to gently lead you to prayer for people you don;t know, or for situations you don't know much about. Be open to the spirit. What do you notice? Is there a feeling of who you should pray for in the days to come? 

You are Mine by David Haas
  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Save a Life

 The Call to Discipleship in The Gospel of Mark, Day 15

3Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ 4Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. 5He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.  Mark 3:1-6
        If the rules of religion get in the way of compassion, what do you choose?  Jesus is again entering synagogue on the Sabbath, where the religious have gathered to test him. They have placed in his path a man with a withered hand. What will Jesus do? They already know that compassion and mercy guide Jesus' interactions with those who are hurt, sick, excluded. They had set him up so they could accuse him of not following the law. Jesus said to the man, 'come here.' And then he spoke to the religious, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good, to save a life." Jesus was angry, when he looked around at them. He grieved at the hardness of their hearts. They would rather allow harm to come to someone than to bend the rules. So he said to the man, 'stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out and his hand was restored. The pharisees, the religious went out and met with the Herodians (a group Mark created), the collaborators the local government who worked closely with the Roman Empire. So one group of religious folk met with the political group that wasn't much liked. Jesus while having no direct confrontation with political forces, has stirred up trouble by showing compassion. These group plot to destroy him.  
       So how does this scripture speak to us today.  Mark is trying to move forward the story of discipleship asking us to think about how we practice our faith - what is more important to save a life and do good? Do we allow the rules to challenge the way God's Spirit is calling us to live out our faith? Do we use our discomfort with change to bully or stall the work of God? How do we save a life and does that put us at odds with political system or with common norms? As I think about this I reminded of my introduction to the sanctuary movement of the 80's. During this time there was a lot of political turmoil in central and south America, where our government was supporting some really awful dictators. The people struggling against those dictators were being killed. Some of them would make their way to the US and would seek shelter in local churches. And these churches saw one of their missions as to provide sanctuary from these terrible circumstances. As a high school student, I attended a a youth event and we learned about and met people seeking sanctuary and people providing sanctuary. This changed how I thought about what the rule of a church is, for we are called to save lives. Have you looked at how your church community is saving lives, taking stands that aren't popular but are part of our faith?  

Prayer practice:
Ask God to show you people who need your help, who are lost, who are floundering, who need their life saved. Ask Jesus to let you see them with his eyes, to yearn for them with his heart. Ask Jesus to let your heart break for them. Then pray for them. Hear Jesus saying to them, 'Come here.' And do anything for them you are supposed to do. Amen. 

Heal Over KT Tunstall

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sabbath Rest

 The Call to Discipleship in The Gospel of Mark a prayer journey, Day 14

23 One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ 25And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ 27Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’         Mark 2:23-28
       This passage continues the discussion of what does it mean to practice our faith, how do we live out religious practices. In this passage Jesus ad his disciples are passing through a grain field and pluck the heads of grain. The pharisees, who are calling people to practice their faith in a strict way. They are part of a renewal movement that was trying to call the people back to their identity. Their understanding of renewal was to hold to tradition. So one of the ideas behind the Sabbath was to rest and refrain from work. Harvesting grain on the Sabbath would have violated the rules against work. Jesus wants us to think of Sabbath practices differently and raises the issue of hunger. In the story, he tells of David and his men eating in the temple the food reserved for the priest, these were men in need. Jesus as the Son of Man can change the rules of the Sabbath, because to feed the hungry is more important than the no work rule.  
       I wonder where Jesus would stand on this rule in a culture where most people can't rest in God's presence on the Sabbath because they have to work. Jesus would fall on the side of compassion for people who have to work to feed their families. But I  wonder if today, Jesus would push us to transform the way work is organized, so that people would have the opportunity for Sabbath rest and still have a living wage. But it also makes me wonder how we as the church demonstrate compassion on the Sabbath. How do our services times provide for this opportunity to show and practice compassion? Do we leave the space to feed the hungry, to provide comfort for those who always have to work on weekends and holidays?  

Prayer Practice:
Sit quietly. Breath slowly and deeply. Ask God to show you the core of your faith, the center of Christianity. Then bring into your awareness people you know who don't attend church or who left the church. Could they be halted in their journey toward God by the little ways we have always done things?  How can we show them a community of compassion, a church that loves and serves the world?  Ask God to show you a few specific things your church can do to help people. Amen.

Presence of the Lord Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood

Monday, February 24, 2014

Fasting

The Call to Discipleship in The Gospel of Mark, Day 13

     18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ 19Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
    21 ‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’  Mark 2:18-22  
       How do we practice our faith with new people and in the new dawning kingdom?  Do we hold onto the traditional practices or do we change our practices to meet new needs?  This is part of the question facing Jesus and the disciples in this passage. John's disciples and the pharisees are fasting. This suggests a time during the year when a religious festival was happening that asked for people to fast as part of the celebration. Both John and the pharisees are very religious and are calling people to be faithful, to be in touch with God. Fasting has always been a religious practice to bring us closer to God. The practice of refraining from food allows people to use their hunger pains and their emptiness to focus on God. So Jesus' followers are not fasting and people want to know why. Jesus' answer reminds us the previous story where Jesus is feasting with sinners. So while others are depriving themselves to be closer to God, Jesus is feasting with outsiders. Jesus' response is right now, while I am here we will celebrate. But Jesus is also talking about how we live and practice our faith when the Holy One of Israel is with us. Jesus gives us the analogy of the old and new wineskins, old and new cloth. When the new is sewn into the old the stitches will break or tear. So a new wine need new wineskins.  
       This raises interesting questions about how to practice our faith. So in our age when fasting is not really a part of our tradition in the UCC except maybe for one item during lent. Would fasting as a spiritual discipline transform our faith?  What would it look like to spend 3 days fasting once a month with the time of the fast being used for meditation and prayer? What would is be like to fast in lent or Advent as if we were celebrating Ramadan? What if we were to refrain from eating during these times from sunrise to sunset. Would this help us to draw closer to God? Would this help us to remember that this time is set apart to bring us closer to God?
       Are we so caught up in hanging onto what was and our traditions that we have forgotten the bridegroom? Have we forgotten that Jesus has called us to be the new wine? Have we lost the practices that bring life? It also makes me wonder if this implies that we as the church have lost the newness, the desire to follow God anew in each generation. This may mean asking why we practice our faith the way we do and how can we allow God to renew us, to help us be the new wine again.    

Prayer Practice:

One of the traditions of my tradition is to pray the Lord's Prayer communally in worship. We often say this reflexively, because we have been saying it since we were children. We speed through it ready to reach the end. Today spend some time changing the way you pray this prayer. So if you have never practiced using a rosary, grab a beaded necklace or bracelet and for each bead say the Lord's prayer. Or alternatively, as you begin to pray the prayer stop at each line and pause breathing in and out. Let the words settle into your heart. 


Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sharing Dinner

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 12

     13 Jesus went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
    15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 17When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’  Mark 2:13-17
       I have a friend who takes this passage very seriously. When she invites you to dinner, you never know who will be there: the recently fired weather man, the new single pastor, the homeless men working on her yard, people from her congregation. She never worries about what her house looks like or what she will have to eat. She opens her table and her heart to everyone she encounters. The wine flows freely, the coffee is bold, and the food in nourishing. The conversations flows freely about politics, religion, worries of life, and the laughter. There is always joy at her table.  
       Jesus while out teaching sees Levi. Jesus sees what there is beyond his outer occupation - tax collector. A man who makes his money by adding to the top of the tax bill. So people looked at Levi and see someone who cheats them and collaborates with the Roman Empire. Jesus perceives more in Levi, he sees deep in his heart, Jesus looked inside and invited Levi to follow.  
     Levi after this encounter invited Jesus to dinner where his friends are fellow tax collectors and sinners. The religious folk want to know why he is eating with this undesirable group of collaborators, cheats, and sinners. They want this dawning kingdom to look to them as the pure ones, the ones to eat with and hang out with. Jesus says to them that he came for the unwell, the unrighteous, the ones who need his healing presence.  
       We are invited o open our tables and our hearts. We are to eat with strangers, with the undesirable in our community. We are to break bread and share wine and laughter. We are to see God's dawning kingdom in these faces we are eating with. We are to bring the healing presence of God close. So take and eat. So take and drink. The kingdom of God will draw near.

Prayer Practice:  

As you sit down to pray today as God to show you who you should eat with. While breathing out think about someone you could invite out for coffee or a meal. Someone you don't normally hang out with. Let God guide you to the person who needs your presence. Amen.

Thank You for Healing Me Sinead O Connor

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Forgiven

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 11

2When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3Then some people came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. 4And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ 8At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? 10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— 11‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ 12And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!'  Mark 2:1-12
       Jesus is at home preaching the word. So many people had gathered that even the doors were crowded. Four men carried a paralytic to Jesus for healing, but they couldn't get near him. So picture this. They climb up on the roof, carry up the paralytic and dig a hole and let the man down through the roof. They dig a whole in Jesus' roof who does that and to the Son of God. I don't know how you would respond but if my roof just opened up, I would probably not be feeling all that compassionate. When Jesus saw their faith (the men, the friends, not the paralytic). Jesus moved by their faith, says to the paralytics, "You're sins are forgiven." 
      There must have been a look on the crowds face. You know the look, the one that says you aren't following the rules, you aren't doing it the way it's always been done. Jesus saw clearly within his spirit their thoughts. For the scribes following the rule - God alone can forgive - was important for their faith. They were trying to keep the rules that kept them from falling to empire and becoming Roman. But Jesus wants us to think about the rules, for if they are preventing us from showing compassion or acting for justice, the rules need to be changed. Jesus asked which is easier to forgive sins or say pick up your mat and walk. 
       Jesus who could also see what that man needed knew that he needed to hear more than pick up your mat and walk. The man was being held back by something more. By saying your sins are forgiven - Jesus touched the raw parts within the man's heart. He provided not just physical healing, but mental and emotional healing. By saying your sins are forgiven, Jesus was affirming that nothing could separate him from the love of God. For the man can now walk, he has experienced God's love. For the crowd this becomes a chance to see the dawning kingdom. The crowd is amazed and praises God.   

Prayer Practice:
Find a comfortable spot to sit and start breathing in and out deeply and slowly. As you breath, hear the words. "Your sins are forgiven." As the worries and regrets come into your heart, hear - "your sins are forgiven." Let the people you have harmed, the actions you regret come before you and let them be washed clean with the words - "your sins are forgiven." Amen.  

Everyday Dave Matthews Band
 

Friday, February 21, 2014

I Do Choose

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 10

40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ 45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.     Mark 1: 40-45
       How do you respond to the healing presence of God and the dawning kingdom? Jesus has spent time moving through the countryside preaching, teaching, and healing. His fame has spread. A leper (a person who has been banned and excluded from the community so his disease would not spread) approaches Jesus. He pleads, he begs, he falls to his knees, "If you choose, you can make me well." Jesus looks on this leper with compassion and touches him. He risks becoming a leper, an outcast to heal him. After the healing, he tells the man to go to the priest and perform the proper offering to be made part of the community. Jesus tells him to say nothing. But he is made well. He can't help but share the news. He tells everyone he encounters about Jesus and how he touched him and healed him. This man spreads the Good News, he shares freely with everyone.  
       What prevents us from sharing the Good News freely to everyone we meet? I can understand the fear or desire not to make people uncomfortable. For when we speak of our faith people don't always react well. I will say I dread the moment people ask me what do you do? For when I say I am a pastor, I have awkward conversations. For in our first conversations people explain they don't go to church but they have been to their Grandmother's church or they went when they were little, their neighbor goes to... But something changes after the first encounter, people come back with their questions, with interest to know what you think. Can you believe in God and not go to church? Why does the church hate homosexuality? I hate that passing of the peace why do they do it? I will admit there are times I am tempted to say I do something else or maneuver out of the conversation, but we who have accepted the call, need to share the Good News freely, openly, passionately, without judgement.  

Prayer Practice:
Read through the passage slowly and place yourself in the story.  Picture yourself seeing Jesus and you call to him. There is something that has been holding you back, making you doubt yourself, or there is illness in your life. As Jesus sees you and starts toward you, you fall to your knees and cry out, "If you choose, you can make me well." Jesus is full of compassion, he stretches out his hand and touches you, saying, "I do choose, be well."  I do choose, be well. Let those words of compassion work on you. Feel the words moving through you. On your in breath hear, I do choose. On your out breath hear, be well. Breath in and out. Jesus sees your pain, your struggle, and chooses to be there with you and says, be well. Be Well. Amen.

Come Healing by Leonard Cohen


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Will Anxiety Distract You

 The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 9

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.'  38He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.  Mark 1:35-39
       What do you do if you are the Holy One of God and need a break? If your Jesus, you have to rise very early and go to a lonely place, an isolated place. When Jesus is out there he prays. After the day he has had of preaching, teaching, healing, setting evil free, and calling followers; he needs to recharge and reconnect with God. The need is overwhelming and this time in pray is needed to reconfirm his mission.
       And yet, he cannot escape the need. Simon and others pursued him, they were chasing after him. They have sought him ought bringing with them the anxiety and needs of the crowds. They want their anxiety to be Jesus' priority. Jesus who has just spent time in pray knows what he has to do. Jesus does not take on their anxiety. He tells them they are going on to the next towns to preach for that is why he came. Jesus continues on preaching in synagogues and setting prisoners free.
       Do you let the anxiety of others draw you away from your mission and purpose? Do you allow others to sidetrack you? Jesus on this journey will be interrupted by need and stop to help, but he shows us that it is ok to say no to anxiety in order to continue working to build God's kingdom. Simon uses the ubiquitous everyone is searching - to stress that there are others who have a need, but he doesn't have to own his need he is anxious for others. Jesus is not drawn into this anonymous, vague everyone. Do you respond to the they, the anonymous anxious they who wants but doesn't come to you directly? Or do you make it a practice to make sure you know who and how many the everyone is so you can speak directly to those who are anxious?

Prayer Practice:
In this passage today we have the disciples searching for Jesus. As I read this line the image and music that came to me was U2 from Rattle and Hum singing "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." I invited you to listen to this song and get lost in the words and music.  What are you searching for?  Are you anxious because you haven't found what you seek?  Stop for a moment and rest in the stillness of God's presence.

I Still Haven't Found What I am Looking For



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why I Choose Church?

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 8

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.  Mark 1:32-34
       The net has been cast, people throughout the town have heard about Jesus in the synagogue and at Peter's house. With the word spreading, people began to bring to Jesus all who were sick or filled with evil. This story is a moment for us to stop and reflect on the dawning kingdom where the sick are healed and the imprisoned are set free. We are meant to experience the power and hope of the kingdom. What does it look like in your life when you speak of the kingdom to your neighbors and friends? Here is one of my stories.  
       I am in the stands for my son’s soccer game. As I sit with another mom and we wait for our kids to be put in the game, she asks: “Why does the pastor of the church say I have to go to church?” After sitting on the sidelines for weeks watching our sons we’d started talking. It got around to, “What do you do for a living?” The question usually leads to silence or people sharing they are spiritual but not religious. As the pastor I am placed in the religious side of the equation. But in this case, we had been talking for a long time about being single moms. So by the time she asked me the question that had been bothering her for awhile, I already knew she wasn’t thrilled with the new pastor and only occasionally attended worship, but she didn’t want to give up altogether. “So why does he tell me I need to go to church? I don’t get anything out of worship.” I was busy thinking about how close our forward was to offsides and wondering why we only pass the ball to the opposing team. So now my pastor hat had to come on and I had to give my honest answer about why church--where we can be both spiritual and religious. I don’t remember my exact answer that day, but these are thoughts I have for people like this mom.
         Jesus began his ministry by asking people to turn around until God is back in their life and then believe that God's is within them. Right off the bat in Mark’s first chapter we learn what it means to be the church. Jesus shows us what it means to live a life where the kingdom of God is right here, close enough to touch.         
After Baptism and time spent with God away from it all, then Jesus proclaims his mission statement: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’  Jesus’ first act is to find companions for the journey. He invites two sets of brothers to follow him and learn how to fish for people. And they did it. They drop everything to follow, to sit at his feet, and learn from his words and actions.       
Jesus then goes to the synagogue and teaches. He speaks in a way that leaves people astonished and speechless. And while there, he encounters evil within that group and Jesus heals the troubled soul.       
 Jesus enters the house of his companions. When he finds illness again, he brings healing to a woman sick with a fever. He touches her, lifts her, and changes her life. She becomes his first disciple: showing his companions what it means to serve, sharing the love she had just received. She is the second among many to receive the kingdom as people healed and made whole.        
Jesus, needing time alone, sneaks off in the middle of the night, to pray. He knows to stop and recharge himself and listen for God’s guidance, love, peace, and renewal. His companions bring him their own anxiety and other peoples’ need for him. But after the time of prayer Jesus knows that he is to continue on visiting towns and synagogues proclaiming the kingdom of God, casting out evil where he finds it, and bringing wholeness to broken beings.        
He then meets a man who says, “If you choose, you can make me well.” And, the words Jesus speaks, are words that I can hear him saying to us: “I do choose.” I choose you in your need and longing, in your dreams and loneliness. I choose you in the good times and the bad. I choose you to be made whole and become a source of wholeness. When people heard about this kind of call to renewal, when they heard about the kingdom and began to see its reality in changed lives, more and more people came to find him.
So, this is the kind of thing I share with others like that single mother. This is why I choose church. Church becomes where the hope and love of God come close. Where we have the chance to be healed and take that healing into the world. So that wherever we go during our week people can have the chance to experience what we have encountered. Our God invites us into a relationship, provides us with companions on our journey, allows us to encounter brokenness and provides real hope. That’s why I go to church. That’s why I became a pastor--so every day I can enter and invite people to join me on the journey.    

Prayer Practice:
As you settle into prayer today, think of the people you know who you know don't go to church. The people you know from siting on the sidelines watching a soccer game, the people at your gym, people at work, a lost family member. Create a list of four or five people. Prayer for the people on your list.  Inviting God to open their hearts to Jesus. Ask God to give your the courage to speak and the nudge to know when the moment is right. Amen.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters by Paul Simon

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Serving Others

 The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 7
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.  Mark 1: 29-31
        And she served them. When I read this line, I have to admit I want to go ugh...She has been sick, sick enough that the disciples spoke to Jesus about her. Jesus goes to her sick bed, takes her hand and lifts her up. She is healed and serves them. So part of me wants to scream at the text, can't she even rest after her her illness? Does she have to get right back up catering to their needs? Does she have to fall right back into her roll of caring for the family?
        So after my initial angst with the text, I have to ask what Mark is trying to show us about the dawning kingdom. We are called to serve not be served. In Mark, many of the unnamed characters show us what it means to live life in the kingdom. Not only do the unnamed people show us how to live, they become the true disciples of Jesus.
       So here in this story, the named disciples are with Jesus witnessing his acts, in this story they bring to Jesus' attention someone in need, but it is Peter's mother-in-law who illustrates discipleship. She performs one of the first offices of the church, to be a deacon, one who serves others. When we look at the woman at the center of this story, we see a person who when touched and healed by Jesus becomes part of the dawning kingdom by passing on what she has received. Her response to healing is to begin helping others, to pay forward what she has received. When you encounter the Holy One of Israel, how will you respond? Will you join the work of building the kingdom or will you go back to your ordinary life changed but not transformed?
       I am preparing to go in the house. I never know who are what I will encounter. Will she remember me? Will she remember her past? Will she share stories of times gone by? Will she be quiet lost in her interior life? Will she ask about the church and the people in it? This day is a good day. She has remembered that I was coming. When I go into her room for communion, she talks about the church, her husband, working for the government and then asks her son to bring us the candy she got especially for me. We share in this chocolate bring the bread and drinking the wine. It was her day to serve me. Who will you serve today?

Prayer practice:
As you settle yourself into the quiet and stillness of God's presence, breath deeply the healing power of God. As you sit in stillness ask God to share with you a way you can serve others. Let a neighbor come to mind is there one who is elderly and could use a ride or some errands taken care of. Ask God if there is a person in your church or life who could use your help. Let that person's image come into your mind. Then ask God to help you be of service by guiding your hands and feet to help.
If We are the Body

Monday, February 17, 2014

Evil in the Church

 The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 6

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.  Mark 1:21-28
       The second stop for Jesus in the dawning kingdom is church. Jesus on the Sabbath heads to the synagogue to teach. When teaching, a man cries, "what have you to do with us?" I find this an interesting challenging question for us in the church to think about. It's a question for our religious institutions to stop and think about to see how we are living in the kingdom and following Jesus. From the outside, we in the church are seen as hypocritical, we don't practice what we say we believe. We as the church are perceived to be anti-science, anti-gay, anti birth control, harmful to children. In these perceptions of being against, how do we speak about following the Gospel, being for the things Jesus is for.
       At the same time, this text asks us to think about the ways evil are present in the church. For in this story, Jesus encounters a person full of evil. The other church people have let this evil grow in their midst. As I read this passage, I am reminded of the many stories pastors share of people in the congregation who act as bullies set on getting their way over everything and making it difficult to follow the movement of God's Spirit. Bullies are sharing what is going wrong and whose fault it is. There is also a sense of systemic evil in the church where the way the people in the church relate to each other and outsiders in unhealthy.
       Evil in the church, how do we talk about and confront it. I had gone to college leaving the church of my high school years behind. The people who volunteered with the youth were really into focus on the family. They made sure we new what was acceptable and unacceptable. Don't have sex until you are married. No questions, no discussion, no knowledge of how to prevent pregnancy.  Do not use birth control and don't have an abortion if you mess up, gie the baby away.  So there was an outsider in church.  She was excluded from the inner circle.  She was an undesirable child. So she made a mistake. She got pregnant. She decided to keep the baby and not get married. The church said no that baby cannot be baptized in the church. The innocent life. The innocent child and her outcast mother were left behind, excluded, ostracized. Evil entered the church and cause people to forget about mercy and forgiveness, to forget that everyone is a beloved child of God. The church let evil in their midst and forgot who Jesus was called to serve.  
       One of the intriguing aspects of Jesus' encounter with evil in the church is that it is evil that recognizes who Jesus is, the Holy One of God. The church people see him as one who teaches with authority but don't make the next leap into understanding that he is the Holy One of God.

Prayer Practice:
Today as you stop and still yourself in God's presence, prayer for your church. If you can go to your church an walk through the building praying for each place and the people who use those places. Ask the Holy One of God to bless each room. 
Saving Grace

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Follow Me:

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 5 

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.  20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.  Mark 1:16-20
       Immediately, without thought they just got going.  Right away, Immediately,  Mark infuses the Gospel with this sense of urgency and passion. As Jesus comes near and the kingdom comes near, people will respond with enthusiasm and passion. So as Jesus walks along the sea he sees a set of brothers fishing and invited them to follow and fish for people. This is not the peaceful fishing of you and your pole by the water. This is fishing by nets being dragged where everything in its path is pulled in - the good desirable fish, the undesirable, inedible fish, sea weed. Everything is pulled in. Jesus with Andrew and Peter is making this claim that those in the line of the net will be pulled in. The net Jesus is casting will bring in the desirable and the undesirable, church folk and sinners, healthy and unhealthy, lost and found, young and old, multicultural, gay and straight, everyone will be drawn in.
        Jesus illustrated this by continuing his walk where he saw James and John and invited them to join the journey. The net snagged them and they too set off with Jesus. They leave behind family. They follow without conditions at least for now. Both of these brother's show us the hope and possibility present in being invited to follow. We are given the chance to jump into a different life, a life with God present.
        I would love to be able to say I jumped right up and followed Jesus, but I took a circuitous route into the ministry. When I was a teenager, while I felt the pull of God on my life, being a preacher's kid I said no. I didn't want to give me life to people who were often mean to my father and had taken him away from us during important family events. I didn't want a life of struggling and scraping to get by and so I said no. When I hit bottom, unemployed, getting divorced, and a single mom, I was able to hear the call. I was in church listening to the sermons, of my grandmother's pastor. I kept hearing the call. Each Sunday there was the pastor preaching about accepting a call. It was like he was talking only to me, week after week for more than month. Jesus encountered Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Nathanael. And I finally said yes. I think I should be a pastor. My immediately took a long time. But God is willing for you to be caught no matter how long it takes. God is casting the net and dragging in the willing and the unwilling, the enthusiastic and the reluctant.  God calls and people still follow.  Some immediately and some in the fullness of time.  God calls and we follow.
     
Prayer Practice:
     I invite you to spend time today using the words, "Follow me," as your call to mindfulness and breath prayer. With the words 'follow me,' spend the day keeping them in your heart and mind. You could do this every time you hear a cell phone go off, you say, 'follow me.'   If you have time today with your intention to follow Jesus and let him lead you to the people and places you need to encounter. Listen to the push to go a certain direction or visit a place and see who Jesus places in your path to encounter.


Clumsy

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Turn Back to God

 The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 4

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’   Mark 1:13-15
       After spending time being tested, Jesus returns to Galilee. He begins preaching. Not a long sermon to explicate his theology, but a concise sermon that speaks the essential message Jesus wants people to hear. The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ As you look around this is the time, the kingdom is present and being revealed.  As Jesus touches and changes the lives of those who are ill, those who are outcast, those who are filled with evil, those who have been excluded from the community, those whose children cannot plead for themselves. The kingdom is being revealed with each step Jesus takes, with each word he speaks, with each touch of his presence. When we are seeking God, when we are searching for God's presence we need to look in those situations and places that reflect the places and people Jesus traveled. If you want to find God working in the world start hanging out with those who don't seem to matter - the undesirable, the unwanted. Search out the least, the last and the lost. Hang out with the children and throw a party. Host a dinner party where the guest list includes a person who is seeking help and the wealthiest person you know, the religious and the nones.
       Jesus' next word to us is repent. A word that brings up images of big barns in the cornfield with the word painted in block letters. A word that brings up images of street preachers with their sign telling you the end is coming, repent. A word that reminds you of all the people who asked if you had been saved and didn't accept the form of Christianity you practice. When Jesus says repent, he isn't inviting you to express your regrets or be sorry for an action. Jesus is inviting you to change, to turn around, to turn back to God.  This word repent is meant to invite you back into relationship with God. To turn from where you have been to God who is waiting for you to turn.
       Jesus' final word is to believe the Good News. This is a word inviting us to actively participate in the unfolding story. To believe in the Gospel of Mark is to act. So here at the beginning of the story, we are invited to participate in the story. To listen as the story unfolds, so that you can believe, so that you can act as your response to the Good News you will have just heard.

Prayer Practice:
Fix Me Jesus
O fix me, Jesus fix me.  May your prayer today be fix me.

Friday, February 14, 2014

With You I am Pleased

 The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 3

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.  Mark 1:9-13
       My beloved.  Have you ever had an encounter with the Living God? Jesus has heard of the new preacher and has gone down to the river.  He decided to be baptized. Jesus has confessed his sins and through baptism turned to God. But when Jesus comes out of the water, he encounters God. As the water runs off of him, he hears, "You are my Beloved, with you I am well pleased." This is an encounter between Jesus and God. The text does not say anyone else heard. While occurring during a religious event, what Jesus experiences is personal and private. After this encounter, Jesus is pushed by the Spirit into the wilderness. For forty days with the Spirit, the angels, the beasts, and Satan. For those days Jesus has to come to terms with what it means to be the Beloved and having God pleased with him. For those days he is tempted by the power he has been given and must decided how he will use it for good, for God. This is the time he decides how he will live as the Beloved.
       Have you has an encounter with God where you could not help but be changed? Where you had to rethink how you would live and be in the world? When I was in my first call. There was no money left to pay my salary. As the meetings occurred they decided to reduce the position to half time. I was having to decided what to do next. My son was finally happy and didn't want to leave. So I was struggling with what to do. The church was struggling not just with money but with growth. So I was questioning what I should do. I was having a bad day. One of those days when the world looks bleak and you wonder why you choose this path. I was in my car driving back to the parsonage. I had the radio on Christian radio. In the middle of the song it just stopped, went silent and then a voice said, "I have called you." There was silence and then the music began playing again.
      Those feelings of being in the wrong profession, of not being a good enough pastor, were calmed. This voice helped, me to remember, to remind me of my call. God had called me to preach the Good News, God never promised me it would be easy, that I would always be employed. God never promised I would stay in the same place with the same church. God didn't say where I was called, I was just invited into the journey.
     Beloved, with you I am well pleased. These are powerful word. They speak of a love from God that accepts you.  Hear those words.  Beloved.  You are beloved.  You are God's Child.  You are accepted, you are loved, you are mine.

Prayer Practice:
I invite you to find some water today.  Dip your fingers into the water and make a sign of the cross on your forehead.  Let the word Jesus heard, "You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased."  Let those words surround you with their love. You are my beloved. Let those words remind you that with God there is always love. With you I am well pleased. Allow one of those words to become your breath pray, breathing it in and out.




Down to the River to Pray by Allison Krause