Telling stories

Preach often, if necessary use words.  We hear that a lot and it's so true.  We want to always live our lives in such a way that the love of Jesus is obvious in our lives, the grace of God permeates our relationships, and integrity defines our interactions.   

But there are times when it is good to be blatant -- to tell our stories about how faith in Jesus Christ transforms us, makes us whole, and takes us into a new life that we could not have imagined prior.  This past Sunday at church, one of our members, a new Lay Servant, shared her story -- her testimony.  Jami has been part of this community for a long time, but what a joy that those who don't spend a great deal of time with her got to hear the impact God has made in her life.  These moments don't happen too often, except in small groups, and I am so thankful that the opportunity was there for Jami to share her story.  She shared it at Staples UMC as well, and it reverberated with that community.  

Sometimes we all need to make the time to tell our stories to one another and in specific moments that are appropriate with friends, neighbors and others.  We encourage each other, we inspire growth for one another, and we spur one another onward to the joy that is life in Jesus. 

Sometimes our words are necessary to add the nuance to the quiet witness that is our lives.

Perseverance

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on

A runner strains toward that goal -- that prize!  It takes focus, energy, exertion!  He could be running next to a beautiful river, but he only focuses on what is right in front of him.  

Personally, I'd rather my faith look more like a fun dance than a strenuous run, but sometimes we get one, and then sometimes we get the other.  But let's keep at it!  Regardless of what else may be going on, the supreme joy of life in step with Jesus Christ is not to be missed. 

Breathing prayer

Lord, hear my prayer.  Be with your people and especially those who are ill.  Be with your people, especially those who are hungry.  Be with your people, especially those following you to new ministries and challenges.  Be with your people, especially those who are lost and lonely.  Be with your people, especially those who have everything but you.  Grant, o God, your presence, that we may breathe the yes that you intend.  Amen.

Ordinary Days and Extraordinary Lives

When I think about the ordinary days and extraordinary lives, I think of the funerals we’ve each attended this year of people we love and shared life with.  When the pictures are on the slide show and you see the moments of laughter and vacations, of beloved friends and family sharing smiles and tender moments, when you see a handshake and a certificate for a job well done, and the gardens tended, the children tended, the art lovingly crafted, the cajoling, the teaching – well, I can go on and on – but the point is:  a life lived in love with Christ and Community, filled in the Holy Spirit – is nothing short of miraculous.  It is extraordinary.  This summer is not ordinary, it is extraordinary even as we brush our teeth and put gas in the car and go about our normal routine.  It shimmers, beloved, with eternity, and legacy, and meaning.  It builds, brick by brick, into what we make it.  God’s all in to make it fantastic, so don’t settle. 

There are moments when the flames are evident and large and exciting.  I think of Emmaus retreats, and new ministries and weddings and babies – new life and life renewed.  But there are times when that flame is steady and present and faithful, like a warm electric blanket.  Because even the electric blanket is plugged into the source of energy.   The quiet hand held in prayer, the food dropped off at the food bank.  The laughter over a game of dominoes, a great run on an early morning, the sweet moments of brushing a beloved horse.  Figuring out what’s for dinner – again.  Keep going, keep at it. 

When you grow in your life in the Lord, when you affirm that Christ is indeed Lord of your life, all the graces and talents that you have become enhanced in the giftings of the Holy Spirit.  You bloom and grow in your place and in your space, not losing your own unique quirks and personality, but enhanced, revitalized and gifted anew with the breath of life.  Life in the Spirit is not a division of sacred and secular.  All of life is prayer, all of life is life in God, not just Sunday mornings and prayer time – but work time and soccer time and school time and movie time. 

Romans 8 reads in part:  So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! 15-17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.[1]

No half-lives allowed, people!  Let’s live our lives expecting God to move.  Let us linger long enough to hear God’s voice in our lives and see the Holy Spirit in action.   Put out your hands and hearts and receive – always asking, “What’s next, Papa?”

 

[1] Peterson, Eugene (Translator). The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Kindle Edition). Carol Stream: NavPress, 2016.

 

Cowgirl Up

Romans 5:3-5.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Sometimes, doggone it, life is hard!  Circumstances change in life every day, sometimes every minute.  Hard times can come and last an hour, perhaps a year, a decade, even a lifetime.  We have no way of knowing what is coming next, what is going to throw us for a loop or what is going to try and pull us down.  And so we are thankful for those ‘seasons’ that allow us to breathe, to have peace and just a day where everything goes right.  And as much as hard times come, good times come as well.  There is no rhyme or reason to good and bad things happening in life, disease, economic downturns, accidents – it happens to everyone!  Certainly we have some control over circumstances and the way we live our lives.  I’m not going to go walking downtown at 2 am by myself – common sense and good choices play a large role in our journey in life.

A few years ago, I had been dealing with so many little issues around my house.  I guess the older a house gets, the more things seem to happen all at once.  A couple of appliances broke down, I had a leaky sink and I had no idea how to fix any of it.  At one point, I sort of threw up my hands and said, “I can’t deal with this, Lord!”  Then, I started thinking about Romans 5 and pictured myself at the gym lifting weights.  If I lift the weights myself, I gain strength and satisfaction.  If someone comes over and moves my arm up and down for me, what have I gained?  I decided to keep on going and flex my own handyman muscles, and I’m the better for it.

When the hard times come, it is not for us to beat ourselves up, or beat up on the Lord, it is for us to pray, to allow God to lead us and teach us through those times.  If we have patience, if we remember to pray (and sometimes we forget in the midst of the storm!), if we can just hang on – we will grow stronger, we will grow in our faith and we will come out on the other side, wiser and calmer in our journeys.

Sometimes our inclination is to hurry up through the hard times and not experience it totally.  I truly think we are missing out when we do that.  Sure, it’s important to ‘cowboy’ or ‘cowgirl’ up and not wallow in our misery, but if we tamp down true emotion, if we refuse to cry, if we refuse to acknowledge anger or fear, then we do not allow ourselves to grow in maturity -- to transform through the experience.  We do not allow ourselves the reality of saying ‘this is where I truly am.  This is not where I want to be, so how do I get to --- there?’

If I rush to a new relationship with a broken heart because I don’t want to be alone, because I don’t want to do the heavy lifting involved in healing, I learn nothing.  If my family is having some relational difficulties and I decide to sign the kids up for karate, piano and soccer, and then spend any free time we might have at the movies, how is that one-on-one time going to occur.  How will we get past the hard times if we don’t have time to think, to look each other in the eye, to have down time to experience one another without rushing from place to place?

I think that happens to all of us now and again.  Sometimes we just have to work our way through the tough spots, flex those feeble muscles and grow!  It’s hard, it can be heart breaking, but we eventually come out on the other side stronger and wiser.

And you know what else you find when you go to gym?  A spotter.  You see people lifting weights together and one person stands to the side ready to grab that weight if it’s about to fall on the partner.  I had spotters helping me with the house maintenance learning curve and I hope each of you have friends and loved ones in your life to help you over the rough spots.   I am thankful for a faith community that is always ready to “spot” for each other!

Breath of God

Yesterday after church, a young woman said that my sermon made her think of Beauty and the Beast.  She talked about how the young man was cursed because he did not love, but the curse was removed when he learned to love and be loved in return.  I love that!  When we recognize how much God loves us we change – we learn our value and the value of others.  Jesus is all about recognizing the value in everyone and exhorting all of us to do the same.  He meets each one of us where we are and tells us to love one another, he says.  Uplift, care, create space to live as God created and breathed in you, knowing that you are the beloved of God.

Here are some highlights from yesterday’s sermon:

1 Peter 1:8 “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,”

John 20:21:  21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 

It’s been a week for us since Easter, but in our text this is still the resurrection day, but later in the afternoon.  Jesus comes to the disciples and then disappears.  Thomas is not there, and needs the evidence.  A few days later Jesus shows up again, aware of what Thomas had said and invites him to put his fingers here at the wounds.  No more disbelief, he says.  Believe!  He doesn’t deride Thomas, he gives him what he wants.  But then he does say:  “Happy are those who do not see and yet believe.”

We easily look around and can doubt the evidence of God in this world.   We can hear words about Jesus, words about the Holy Spirit, be excited for someone else’s faith and still find our own selves lacking.  There is something about staying close to Jesus and saying “show me,” there is something about being in community that allows the questions, that allows Jesus to present himself, in the present day, in the midst of the void. 

The resurrection story is one of love through doubt, love through absence, love through the void.  It is God’s love at work, not your level of faith, so rest easy about that. 

But sometimes we feel like we’re missing out.  We see things happening over here and over there, and we just didn’t get there.  Think about that for a minute.  We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples – maybe his kid had a soccer game, or he had to work late, or his mom was sick – or, in spite of the tragedies going on, he and his wife went to the coast because they absolutely needed to get away.  Life goes on, regardless of good or bad, but when we are somewhere else, we aren’t …. Somewhere else.  And maybe we miss out on a golden moment.

That’s where Thomas was.  He didn’t get that breath of Jesus on him.  I would have been pretty despondent.  ‘Breathe on me, Jesus!”  I want to be filled with you, Jesus, just like the others. 

Have you ever wished you were more spiritual?  You know the Beatitudes in Matthew – blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (or the things of God) and they will be filled up –  maybe not the same day as everyone else, but take heart, beloved, God hears your cry.

Thomas got to have his own encounter with Jesus.  Specific to him, right for him, in a moment that mattered for him.  Apart from, but part of, the community. 

I want to be all in, breathed on, soaked in everything that God has for me in Jesus Christ because well – that’s where the action is!  That is the beauty of life and love and creativity.  That is the beauty of life in community, connected to God and connected to one another.

We hear it said that God doesn’t have grandchildren.  You cannot be a believer in Christ based on someone else’s word.  To be clear, you can hear the message, and be told the good news, but you must have your own encounter with the risen Lord, with the powerful God who loves and defeats death, who calls us to loving relationship.  But the wonderful thing is, in some way form or fashion, Jesus shows up to you.  You must encounter Jesus on your own – struggle, wrestle, enjoy, delight – all the things that make life and faith vibrant is first-hand experience, first-hand prayer, first-hand devotion to God.  You don’t get it through your mama, your spouse, or your good works.  You get it because God gives it to you – full on, overflowing abundance, but you must, must, must put out your hands to receive.  You must be in the right place at the right time.  And the right place is willingness, and the right time is now.  The time is always right to have an encounter with Jesus Christ.  Keep that in mind when you breathe in the dawn of a new day or sink your head into the pillow with a sigh toward sleep.  Now is the time for devotion, now is the time for joy, now is the time to breathe what God has for you. 

I love that Jesus appears to the disciples when they are together.  I love that he appears to Thomas when Thomas is back in the group, returned from whatever kept him away the week before.  Can you imagine?  I’m in groups like that all over this parish.  When we gather on Sunday mornings and we worship the Lord together, we pray together.  When I join the bible study on Thursdays or the Emmaus group on Wednesdays, share a meal or a cup of coffee, or various opportunities when we are invited to come and participate with each other.  It’s always uplifting, encouraging and enjoyable.  We learn from each other, we grow in our friendships and we increase in our desire to love and be like Jesus. 

Don’t settle for someone else’s experience.  Thomas had the desire to see Jesus on his own terms and Jesus knew this.  Don’t you love how when Jesus shows up again he alludes to the conversation and tells Thomas, you wanted it, you got it, touch my hands, see the wounds.  When we have the desire for the things of God, for a way of life or a transformation that will enhance our lives and our families and our communities, in line with the love of God, stand back.  The prayer will be answered, even though you might not recognize it.  It may humble you a bit (as I’m sure Thomas felt) or it may call you deeper into your understanding of Jesus and demand something of you.  The desire for God is a first step to responding to the love of God in our lives.  See if the true Love of Christ doesn’t show up when you express that desire. 

Are you asking God to breathe on you?  Open your hands, open your hearts, make space for the Holy Spirit in your time and life and place.  I have no doubt the Lord will meet you.  You may not feel like Jesus is carrying you down the beach and helping you pick up the gifts of the spirit and the pretty shells that catch your eye, keeping you out of the salty rolling waves, but in the end, and I know this is true, God’s got your back.  God will breathe on you, too.

Breathing Yes

April 21, 2017

John 20:22a“When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…

This is one verse in the sermon for this Sunday and it brings up one of my favorite topics – the breath of God.  How astounding that God loves us so much that we receive breath, life, and vitality from our God.  In the creation story when God breathes life into humanity, it is magnificent in its imagery.  Jesus breathes on his disciples and brings new life and vitality to them.

God is so much bigger than our sentences, so we must breathe in the wonder and express it as best we can.  When we look around and see beauty, we realize how big God’s yes is.  We should delight and dance in this day of creation!  And when we experience the opposite, the anger, the hatred, the manifestations of evil, we realize what truth is behind the story is about getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden because of our own hubris. 

The move of God in creation, and the new creative life we are called to daily, which our faith expresses so beautifully at baptism, does not stop at the waters, but is a continual claiming, day by day.  To live out new life as an expression of who we “are” and not what we “ought” to do is a beautiful explanation of how living in God, to me, is ‘breathing yes’ every day.

ee cummings has a poem, “sweet spring,” and one of the verses says “such a sky and such a sun i never knew and neither did you, and everybody never breathed quite so many kinds of yes.”  Breathe on me, breath of God!

I have seen the Lord!

John 20:18         18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

You know, this story is a bit outrageous.  I think we all know, though, that truth is stranger than fiction.  These people didn’t quite know what to do with this information.  They were lost and broken just a few days before.  Peter was ashamed of acknowledging Jesus as his friend and then ashamed for being ashamed.  And then Jesus died.  Just up and died and left them all alone. 

We all know what it’s like to be left alone.  There are moments in all of our lives when despair, rage, grief have overtaken us.  Life comes at us full force, head on and there is no avoiding the sledgehammers of experience that can almost kill us.  There is no denying that life is hard, even in the best of times.  There is no denying that we sit outside a tomb and grieve.

Mary stays put, grieving, and is rewarded.  Jesus speaks to her and through her tears she awakens to new realities.  JESUS IS ALIVE!  And he tells her to go and tell the others.  And she does!  “I HAVE SEEN THE LORD!”

“I have seen the Lord!”  We gather here this morning in celebration of this resurrection morning.  Since that first Sunday when Mary proclaimed the good news, disciples have continued to gather on Sunday mornings – an unbroken line of triumph, of joy, of resurrection, of the bold proclamation, “We have seen the Lord!” 

Somehow, someway, someday, something happens.  We peek inside the tomb, and there is a miracle.  Somehow, God can reach inside of us, fill our hearts with peace and joy and the miraculous news that Christ is alive.  This truth wells up within us and permeates our very being.  We are indeed born again!  We are indeed taking a step to live closely with our God Creator, our Christ Redeemer, and our Spirit Comforter.  Whether a growing in faith through a life’s journey or a moment of astounding change we each in our own way have “seen the Lord!”  And it changes us, it informs the way we live.

In Acts, this same Peter who huddled in a room confused and scared says in Acts 10 “God shows no partiality … Jesus Is Lord of all … He rose from the dead … Everyone who believes receives forgiveness through his name.”  A far cry from the guy who scurried back to town to hide!

BE BOLD

Peter and Mary show us that being awakened to faith to the wonder of who Jesus Christ is frees us all to a life of boldness!  You matter!  You have value!  All your quirky ways, your special interests, your talents you realize are gifts of God who makes you uniquely you.  This cross represents where your failings and sins have been traded for

Joy instead of sorrow
Freedom instead of failure
Yes instead of no.

That is reason for boldness, for passion, for living out loud, for celebrating who you are in Christ Jesus.

Take a deep breath and relish what Christ has done for you!  That life of growing, knowing and sowing is yours.  Growing in grace and delight, knowing your God who loves you and continuing to explore the mysteries of faith, and sowing seeds of the good news wherever you are, wherever you go, because who you are in Christ preaches without you even knowing it – you sow through the transformation that God has begun in your life.  Isn’t it amazing!

Awake, rise up and bless the Lord!  Be bold!

BE STRONG

Be strong.  It took a while for the disciples to get their strength in the faith.  It took the breath of God, the continued growth in understanding Jesus’s teachings to awaken to that new life. 

Just as surely as Easter is a new understanding of life and living life out loud, it is indeed the breath and life that God is faithful to impart to use that gives us strength and stamina for this journey.  Have you seen the Lord?  Have you experienced the move of God in your life?  Is that resurrection morning as true for you today as it was for Mary and the disciples?  Is it?

Is it?  Awaken again to the joy of Easter morning!  Rise up and bless the Lord!  Be strong!  For the Lord thy God is with you! 

The Lord is with You

If you are looking into the empty tomb and wondering what it means – hear this:

Jesus died out of love for you.  He preached life and love and closeness to God.  He cared about everyone.  And then he was crucified.  But death cannot contain such love.  Death has no sting.  Jesus rises and raises us with him – not just for eternity, beloved, but for today.  Jesus raises us up from the ashes of our failures and our sins, our inadequacies and our fears to tell us again and again that God created us because God loves us. 

Live with boldness, awakened to life in Christ.  Life in strength, with the power of God sustaining you, awakening you to new possibilities.  Live!  Fully, wholly, complete – for the Lord your God is with you.

If you need resurrecting in your faith this day, look at the empty cross, the empty tomb, and the new life of possibility.  Our Lord is risen.  What a wonder!

We must recognize that we are forgiven, beautiful, accepted and much loved by Christ.  We must not sell ourselves short on what he might have for us.  When we walk in that knowledge, our service to others becomes less about who we are, what we have to offer, and more about what does Christ want from me – right now?  How do I respond to that empty tomb?

Be bold.  Be strong. The Lord is with you.    Go and tell the news and live out your faith so that your life story says:  “I have seen the Lord.” 

From Lent to Easter

Well, I woke up this morning looking forward to rain that has not yet come.  So we wait a bit longer for more rain.  We begin to see signs of spring and growth because of water, sun and care.  Kind of a good metaphor for April as we segue from Lent to Easter.  What fruits will be borne of our Lenten journeys?  How will the Easter resurrection become new life for us – again?  

It is lovely to anticipate how God works in our lives, during hard times and good, fair weather and storms.  The love of Jesus and the power of Jesus so distinctly demonstrated on the resurrection morning reminds us that we have a great and mighty God – a great and mighty God who loves us mightily.

That’s a great big splash of good news to spur us on to growth!

 

Rev. Janet Hahn