Thursday, December 7, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Advent Awesome

Awesome.

I try my best not to use this word.

Mainly because some people think everything is awesome.

That burger was awesome. That preacher has awesome hair. Tom Brady is...you get the point.

I guess you can say ‘awesome’ has lost some of its…awesomeness.

That was terrible.

But there are times when no other word can be used but awesome.

Here is the definition I’m working with:
            awe-some:  adjective—extremely impressive; inspiring great admiration

Great admiration.



Know what’s awesome? This photo. Know why? Four of these women are 95 or older. They are the matriarchs of our church. These four women attend just about every event at the church. They are faithful worshippers, rarely missing a Sunday. They are the ones who at the end of a service offer me kind words of encouragement as they hug me.

These four women, their faith is awesome.

They are awesome not only because they laugh at my corny jokes, but also because they get it. They know what it means to show up. They know what it means to be present with each other. I mean, these four ladies have seen more in their lifetimes than I ever will.

And yet,
            They
                        Still
                                    Show
                                                Up.

Kind of like Anna.

I know, I’m rushing the story. Anna doesn’t appear until Luke 2 when Jesus is presented in the temple, but her faithfulness is important to note now in Advent.
“There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Ash’er. She was of great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Y’all, see what Luke is doing here? Luke is emphasizing Anna’s reliability so that her testimony regarding Jesus is unimpeachable. Her devotion to God is an emblem of her piety. She teaches that our waiting, when rooted in prayer and other spiritual disciplines, is never in vain. Anna didn’t remain idle while she waited for God’s good news. Anna bears witness to the words that the prophet Isaiah spoke, “…the Holy One longs to be gracious to you, and therefore God exalts Godself to show mercy to you. For the Holy one is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for God.”

Like Anna, these four saints have taught me so much about faith, hope, and love. They remind me how there is wisdom in the waiting. They teach me, every time we are together, breaking bread, about joy.

And that, my friends, is
                                                Extremely impressive,
                                                                                    Inspiring great (bigly) admiration.
It’s
awesome.

May you in your waiting know God’s good news. May you trust how God longs to be gracious to you. And may you, as you anticipate the return of the light, welcome hope, knowing like Anna, that goodness will come to those who wait.

Questions to consider
Who are the wise prophets like Anna in your life? What wisdom my they offer up to you? How might they help you name God’s presence in your life with their stories of faith?

Prayer

Thank you God for the awesome people who surround me with goodness and love.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Quick Question

“Where are you?”

I begin most days answering this question in my journal at the start of each morning. 

Lately the words have been similar.

Rushed...
Stressed...
Frustrated...
Hurried...
Irritated...
Bitter...
Exhausted...
Worried...
Absent...
Tired...
Anxious...
Saddened...
Spent...

Usually when I get to this place, I realize I’ve lost center. Somewhere amidst the running from here to there, between the four churches I moderate, and the everyday going-ons of adulthood, I forget to take time to 

just
be. 

The other day I stumbled across these words and they stopped me in my tracks:
13-16 The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.
It was the last line that spoke to me the most. 

Friend, you don’t have to do everything. You don’t have to be everything to everyone. You don’t have to have it all figured out right now. Take your time. Take a moment to breathe. And do so with your spouse, your friend, and with yourself. Return to the center. Allow the child within, the one who cannot be weighed down by all our worries, and let God hold you against Her heart. 

In just a few days we begin our preparations for the nativity of Christ known as the season of Advent. Once more we will hear the invasive news that it is time to think about fresh possibilities for deliverance and human wholeness. Amidst the news of war and rumors of war, between the pages of bad news, and in light of the darkening days, the message we find during this season is...
peace.

But peace takes time. To get to the center of this promise, we have to want it, move toward it. This means we need to make space to lean into what we are preparing for:  the vulnerability of God made known in the birth of Christ. 

Friends, before the calendar gets away from us, remember, don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “Where are you?” Take time to see where the holy breaks into the daily. In the days to come, I invite us to open our broken, wearied, or tired hearts to the healing grace of God, who always stands inviting us to that place of peace...

the center, where the light of Christ dwells.


As you go about your day and through this season, may you know God’s presence; may you hear the good news of Christ’s love for you; and may the Holy Spirit surround you as you walk and wait for peace.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Confession-Eucharist

Okay, I have a confession.

Rarely do I do these as your pastor. But, I have to make it known.

You ready?

...deep, dramatic breath...

I’ve already started making my list of all the things I want to do/accomplish in 2018.

Yea, I’m one of those people.  What makes me different is that instead of calling it a “New Year’s Resolution” list, I call it, “The Things I’m Going to Try and Do that Will Bring a Smile to My Face” list.

What a catchy name, yea?

Want to know what is number one on my list?

To live from a place of thankfulness.

Did you know in Greek the word for thanksgiving is Eucharist?

Which is what the long prayer we offer up before we celebrate communion is often titled “The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving”.

The Great Thanksgiving prayer is in fact that—a prayer of thanks. It tells the story of the gospel, it reminds us of God’s promises, Christ’s faithfulness, and the Holy Spirit’s presence. The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving gives thanks for creation, then for redemption (a fancy word meaning the action of God not leaving us to our own devices), moving through Christ's conception and birth to his suffering and death and then to his resurrection and ascension. In giving thanks and retelling the story of salvation history, we are reminded of God’s graces and how in the simple meal of bread and juice/wine, we are united as God’s family, on earth, and in heaven.

Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist—it is a meal of thanksgiving. It is a taste of what will be and a reminder of how all of life is a gift. A gift best experienced when shared with one another.

So yea, I want to live this type of life—a Eucharistic life. And there is no better time to start than today, in this season of thanksgiving.

I’m thankful for you, friend. I’m thankful that somewhere along the way your story and my story crossed, and that together we are telling the life-giving story of God.

What a story it is, too. It is one full of beauty and heartache, good times and hard times, bountiful harvests and valleys of dry bones. Yet the thesis, the main point, the good news in it all is the promise of God’s faithfulness.

So, as we move into the official start to these ‘holy days,’ I share with you one of my favorite quotes from Presbyterian pastor and writer, Frederick Buchner:

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you.

May you know how thankful we are for you. May you know how delighted God is to call you God’s own. May you know, in the deepest part of your being, the truth in the psalmist words:

God is God,
     And God has bathed us in light.
Festoon the shrine with garlands,
    hang colored banners above the altar!
You’re our God, and we thank you.
    O my God, we lift high your praise.
Thank God—God’s so good.

    God’s love never quits!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Pray This Way part 1

“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth, as it is in heaven….”
~Matthew 6.9-10

            Sunday was an awful day for our friends in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Twenty-six lives were taken by gun violence. Not only did the wrongdoer of this tragedy inflict pain, grief, sadness, and anger on the families, community, and nation, this person also compromised the safety of a church. When we aren’t safe in our places of worship—the space we set aside as “sanctuary”—where are we safe?
            Emerging out of this incident, which is yet another mass-casualty shooting in a matter of months, is a cultural debate about “thoughts and prayers” being our response toward all those affected by gun violence. As a pastor, I’d like to offer up my thoughts about this in an honest, biblical way.
            First, we must pray. We must hold those who have lost their lives before the light God, asking God to welcome them in glory. We must pray for those who now enter into a dark season of sorrow, praying God will comfort them in their grief. Our prayers may become a strong tower of hope. And yes (even though we may not like this), we must pray for Devin Kelley, the child of God who used guns to take the lives of twenty-six saints. My prayer for Devin and his family is that God’s love may break through hardened hearts and darken minds and that God will have mercy on him.
Hear us, O God of compassion,
surround those who have been shaken by tragedy
with a sense of your present love,
and hold them in faith.

            We prayed.
            Now what?
            Perhaps an answer to this complicated question is found at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. On Sunday we began a three-week series addressing the question, “What exactly are we praying when we pray the ‘Our Father’?” In light of Sunday’s tragedy, there is a new question we can add to our consideration: What does the Lord’s Prayer have to do with the Christian response to gun violence?
            There are many prayers to be prayed, but to pray as Jesus taught is a peculiar kind of activity based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we boldly declare that God has not abandoned the world to its own devices but is present among a people on the move—a people moving from our old ways of doing things… we, ordinary people, who have been given the extraordinary authority to be part of the divine, peaceful transition from the evil realm to God’s reign now.
            Did you catch that? The Lord’s Prayer is an invitation to join in on the world’s transformation by being Jesus’s followers. To follow Jesus means not only believing a particular doctrine but also incarnating the love that has saved us. When we pray this prayer, we bend our lives, and our wants towards God’s life and what God wants.
            We live as we pray. Prayer then leads to action. When we pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven and as we allow this prayer to seep into the crevices of our hearts, we become that for which we yearn. We are able to live hopefully in a fallen-yet-being-made-new world because of the One who has taught us to pray “this way.” Pray for God’s kingdom to come, yes; but also live and organize our lives in such a way they usher in God’s peace.
            As we pray, “Your will be done,” we beg God not for what we want but to have our lives caught up in that which is larger than our lives; we are asking to be caught up in what God is doing. And if God is who we say God is, then God is making this world, inviting us to join God, and working so that violence of any kind is ended. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that the peace in heaven is experienced here on earth.
            If this seems strange, too idealistic, or too impractical, then I say, “good”… because it is. Remember, Jesus instructed the Lord’s Prayer to be prayed aloud, as a public gesture. Thus, in praying the Lord’s Prayer and in the living this prayer, God’s people will appear strange. Some of us might even be called fools and dreamers. 
            When we say, our thoughts and prayers are with these people, what are we really saying?
            If we allow the Lord’s Prayer to shape our faith, we know how our thoughts and prayers will lead to actions and participation in bringing about justice and peace with God’s help.
            Prayer isn’t passive.

            Prayer is when we bend our hearts, hands, and resources to God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven.
 What do you say, church? Let us 'hallow' God's name and our lives by being Christ to the world, to those grieving, and to one another. Amen. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Stained Glass

The Pope said it best yesterday:

“The saints weren’t perfect, but they allowed God to touch their lives.”

To put it another way: they were like candles; their lives shone of Christ’s love.

Last evening, during our “All Saints Supper and Celebration,” I asked each person to talk about their first Sunday school teacher. Mine was Marylou Crocker. To this day I consider her to be a saint—if not because of the countless ways she faithfully serves the church—because she most definitely deserves that distinction for putting up with my boyhood antics for all those years!

Marylou was the one who taught me about the light of Christ dwelling in me.

Though I doubt she would have put it that way, I now know the importance of the Bible song she taught us as we sat around the little table. It is probably one you recognize. It goes:

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, Let it shine,
Let it shine.

In teaching me this timeless folk song, Marylou instilled two truths:

1.     I have a light. God breathed life into me, and I am one created in God’s image and likeness. This light is a gift from Christ, who—in his life, from his death, and by his resurrection—dispelled all darkness. The light (albeit a little, flickering one) is a light no darkness can ever overcome.

2.     I must let my light shine. By the Holy Spirit, God has gifted me with graces to reflect God’s love with my very life. The light shines when I love my neighbor as I love myself. The light grows brighter when I love my enemies, care for the downtrodden, and break bread with the faithful. This gift of light is to be shared, not hidden. It is by our lights—the very lives we live—that we keep vigil in times of great darkness.

While I do this, maybe my light isn’t such a little, flickering light, after all.

In Luke 11.33 Jesus says, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.”

Friend, let your light shine. Let your life speak of the goodness you know to be God’s grace in your life. Embody the light of Christ that has come to dwell as the dawn of your hopes. Welcome the breath of the Spirit that breathes on the embers of your dreams, bringing to life creativity and joy!

Later on in his homily, Pope Francis said, “The saints above all are our brothers and sisters who have welcomed the light of God into their hearts and have passed it on to the world, each one according to their own tone.”

We are like stained glass and the light the shines in us will be different. The saints have taught me that I need not be Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead, I need to be Adam—only Adam—cultivating the flame God has gifted uniquely to me. As those before us lived to let the light of God pass through them to hold off sin and darkness, so may it be the same for us. My light placed next to your light, and then set next to your neighbor’s light… well, those make for a light as bright as the sun.


I wonder what that must look like? Who knew that to be a saint would mean to live like light shining through stained glass...

The light shines through a stained glass in Adam's study. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Spirit Stretch

9[Jesus] left that place and entered their synagogue; 10a man was there with a withered hand, and [the religious leaders] asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. 11He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” 13Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. 14But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

***

So, who are you in this story?

Are you Jesus?
Are you the one healing someone else?

Are you the religious leaders?
Are you the one making sure what we’ve always done continues to be done despite the need for reform?

Are you the man?
Are you the one who is in need of healing?

Isn’t it interesting the man healed didn’t ask for it?

Isn’t it fascinating to see how religious folks were more interested in ‘church attendance and participation’ that they neglected to see the need to heal this man?

Isn’t it comforting to know Jesus recognizes how worthy we are to not only be healed but to be touched?

This text has me wondering how I spend my energies and where.

Am I like the pastor’s in this story, trying to trip people up with the Book of Order and how we should do things? Am I focusing too much on the negative in the world? 

Or am I like Jesus, willing to accept criticism from the community because of my actions to do justice?

Here’s the thing, friends:  we can’t be afraid of what others will think of us as we preach the radically inclusive gospel of Jesus.

The religious folks were trying to trip Jesus up. Trying to catch him in an act they could exploit and eventually ruin his ministry with.

Yet Jesus knew Torah and knew how the teachings of God are meant to build-up the family of faith, not divide it.

There’s one more piece of this text I want to hold up as we head into the weekend.

Do not be afraid to stretch out your hand to be healed, okay? Name where you need to be healed. Pray for healing. Look to see how you can heal others. Recognize where you attempt to box people out from God’s healing love….and stop doing it!

If there’s anything to take away from this reflection, I hope you consider this:
Jesus comes to offer forgiveness, to extend mercy, and to embrace us with compassion.
                                   
                                                Accept it.

                                                                                    Receive it.

Believe the good words that God in Christ Jesus reaches out in loving compassion to feed our souls and bodies with Christ’s presence and relieve our bruises both physical and mental with Christ’s touch.

May you accept God’s healing in your life.

May we trust in the Wounded Healer’s promise to never leave us in the pit of our brokenness.


May we believe in the Spirit’s movement through us to heal the world.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Suit Pants & My Big Hips

This past Sunday was a fun Sunday at church, wasn’t it?

For anyone who wasn’t able to attendyou missed out!

We had balloons, a beautiful tablecloth purchased from the dollar store, and a little confetti to go along with our *party*. Indeed, we had fun.

Mixed in with the fun, however, was an invitation. The invitation was a response to the Gospel lesson of the day: Jesus telling a parable about a king who had a wedding banquet and all his buddies, who didn’t show up. So the king sent out folks from the party to grab anyone, the good AND the bad, and he sat them around the great feast. There was a lot of laughter in the great hall, along with jokes as good as the ones your pastor tells. The amount of joy filling that room was comparable to what Chicago felt after the Cubs won the World Series last year.

Everyone in attendance was having a good time.

But you know things got a bit weird and uncomfortable. The king was walking around doing what kings do, and he noticed someone didn’t have their wedding garb on. So this ol’boy well let’s just say he had to leave and hang out in a dark alley to experience the party through the crack of the backdoor.

The story ends with Jesus saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

What a party. What a wait, wait, wait.

Let me get this straight. Dude throws a party. Those who received the ‘Save the Date’ cards didn’t show up. So he sends folks out and brings in anybody off the street. Again—not to be overly dramatic about it—the guests included the good and the bad. The Good. And the bad. The people you like! And those you can’t stand,
         sitting next to one another
                        at a supper table
                           that NONE of you were ACTUALLY invited to.

At just about the time we can accept the radical hospitality of the king—a symbol for how God welcomes everyone—we might become a bit troubled by what happens to the guy who received the “Y'all come in” invitation but who refused to put on the wedding garb.

Let me help us out. Back then, when folks threw weddings, guests had to put on a wedding garb. Not to take away from the rich history of Judaism, but it would be like showing up today to a birthday party and refusing to wear a party hat. Now, I hope you wouldn’t get hogtied and thrown out beside the dumpster to party with the opossums and raccoons if you were too cool to wear one of those annoying hats.

So here’s the thing about this confusing parable that presents a king as easily angered and overly vindictive, who gets peeved if you don’t show up to the party looking like everyone else: we dare not worship such a king nor imitate his behavior.

Nope; we are supposed to reflect God’s reign—a reign where hospitality is not limited to the “best people” (let's be honest, often those “best people” think they have better things to do than following God’s way). And we also don’t want to limit that hospitality because of our own pride. That person who didn’t put on the wedding garb—by saying, “No”—closed the door to the fullness of divine generosity. Sad.

Oh, notice one more thing about this problematic parable: the person who refused to put on the wedding garb (or that annoying party hat), though they were excused and found themselves in an awkward place, they were never pushed beyond the grace of God. So there is still good news!

Unfortunately, consequences to our actions or pride are real, but God’s deep love always makes its way to us, guiding us back to a place of wholeness, especially for those of us who refuse to believe we are worthy of God’s love time after time.

Thanks be to God, friends that the realm of God must always be a place of second and third chances. [[And thank God that even the backdoor is still a doorway back in. And thank God that even the opossums and raccoons are also creatures of God’s making.]]

On Sunday, I invited those who were at our party to come down and receive an envelope, which contained an invitation. They had the option of actually asking someone they know (or don’t know! what a strange idea evangelism can be) to church with the invitation. I hope Lincoln and Logan County are filled with lots of “See Y'all there” responses.

Also—and this might have been lost near worship’s end by my weak attempt to explain it—I invited everyone to receive God’s love, peace, hope, and joy.

Do you remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6? The invitation he extended to us?

“Hey, beloved child. Do not worry. Do not worry if you are enough—do not worry about if you’ll fit in. Do not worry about the latest fashion trends or keeping up with technology—trying to stay relevant. Do not worry about the crows feet around your eyes and the stretch marks on your belly. Don’t worry about these things because what mattersis you.

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

Here’s the thing, friends, the disciples didn’t get this right away either, so Jesus repeated it in Matthew 10:

“Child of Love, have no fear of those who ridicule you or make fun of you or persecute you because you stand on the side of justice because you preach a message of peace, or because you identify as something that isn’t *normal*.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Mother. And even the hairs on your head are all counted.”

Listen up—God is throwing a party. God welcomes you to attend. God invites you to show up. Some days, you’ll know what to wear to the party, and you’ll come in right on time. Other times, you might feel like those suit pants make your hips look big, you might wear sweatpants to the black tie affair, or you might lose your “save the date” card and miss the party altogether.

But the thing you must remember is this: it is okay if you do. Whether you show up or not, God loves you. But when you do show up, and when you do receive the invitation to dwell in the presence of God and one another, the party is better—way better—and so much more complete with you.

You are needed. Don’t worry if you’ll fit in or if you have the right attire. Just show up. Be yourself. Because as one great writer once said:

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another.”

I invite you to receive God’s claim on you. I invite you to sit at the feet of Jesus and allow him to heal your wounds. And I invite you to let the Holy Spirit use your gifts to make the church and this world a better place.

Friends, the party just isn’t the same without you.

I’ll be here we’ll be here waiting at the table with and for you,


Adam