Monday, October 31, 2016

The Gift of Life

As a pastor, I am often with families who are going through difficult times in their lives - many of them life-changing.  I pray and wish that I could do something to help allieviate the pain and suffering that they are experiencing.  I long to be able to turn back the clock and prevent a particular event from taking place.  I want to be able do something - anything to help.

In the past week, many of us have watched helplessly as Jessi-Ann's heart failed and she was placed on a machine to keep her heart beating.  We hold onto every bit of news that brings us hope as we wait to see what will happen.  We want to be able to help, to do something - anything to bring the healing and hope that we all long for.  Yet, we must live in the midst of the uncertainty and the waiting.

As one who has been by the bedside of a loved one, waiting and watching, often with uncertainty, it is difficult to tell others how they might help.  What we want the most is healing and renewed life and that rarely happens overnight.  It is not something we have to give to those who long for it.

Jessi-Ann's family has had numerous people ask how they might help.   And as I thought and prayed about what we could realistically do, I thought about Jessi-Ann and her life that she has lived with such abundance since her heart transplant.  She is more than just the receipient of a transplant but an advocate and support for others who are in need of a transplant themselves.  The gift of life that she was blessed to receive is a gift that she celebrates to its fullest.

Yet, New York state has the third-lowest donor registration rate in the country, but it’s ranked third-highest among all states by the number of residents in need of a transplant.

I believe that one of the greatest gifts that we can give is the gift of life.  I personally am blessed by the gift of life from a bi-lateral lung transplant that was given to my husband, Michael over 21 years ago.  We would've never met if that young man's family had not offered this gift in the midst of their own sorrow.  Jessi-Ann would not have had the life she's had thus far without that gift of life eight years ago.

While we may not be able to bring the quick healing for Jessi-Ann that we all pray and long for, we can honor her life and her love that has touched us all.  Think and pray about registering to be an organ donor (see the link below) or donate blood at an upcoming blood drive.  Talk to your family about your decision as they will likely to be the ones who will be faced by it.  Invite your friends and other family members to do the same (let's see if we can change those NYS statistics!)

As we have been blessed by the gift of Jessi-Ann's presence in our lives, let us promise to share the gift of our lives with others.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Eat, Pray, Love series

During these summer months, we have been gathering following worship for a time to share a meal together and learn different ways to pray.  I included a couple of things in my previous post but wanted to share a few more.

Prayer during different seasons of our lives
   Summer is a time of many different kinds of events
-          What events are you attending/participating in this summer?
-          How do you mark them?
o   What kinds of things might we pray about for these events?

    For everything there is a season
           Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
-          Other kinds of milestones in people’s lives (good or bad)
o   examples
§  Retirement
§  Moving
§  Losing job/getting new job
§  Teen getting license
§  Empty Nest or new family
§  Specific holidays

                    * What kinds of prayers might be lifted up for these kinds of milestones in your life or the lives of others?

Tangible ways to mark these seasons
o   Laying on of hands with prayer
o   Prayer shawls to surround and uphold them(not just when people sick)
o   Lighting a candle
o   Make a collage of pictures (not just for funerals)
      For Everything a Season; Blessings for Daily life by the Nilsen Family
      All Through the Day, All Through the Night: Family Prayers & Celebrations by David Batchelder

Praying with Color
   One of the newest trends is coloring books for adults.  You can find them just about anywhere.  Pictures and images can even be downloaded online.

 In this session, we used coloring pages that had Psalms connected to them.  
        They became a kind of meditation as we focused on the verse as we colored in the picture.

Another way is to do your own drawing, using this framework from a book called Praying In Color by Sybil Macbeth (the following is from her website: )

 Reasons to pray with color:
1) You want to pray but words escape you. 2) Sitting still and staying focused in prayer are a challenge. 3) Your body wants to be part of your prayer. 4) You want to just hang out with God but don’t know how. 5) Listening to God feels like an impossible task . 6) Your mind wanders and your body complains. 7) You want a visual, concrete way to pray. 8) You Need a new way to pray.

 Here’s how to get started :
1) Write your name for God on a piece of paper. Draw a shape around it or just start to doodle. The drawing becomes a prayer space, a small prayer closet.                     

2) Add marks and shapes. Focus on the name you chose. Ask God to be part of your prayer time with or without words. If words come, pray them; if not, enjoy the silence

3) To pray for a person, write their name on the page. Draw around it. Add color, if you want. Keep drawing as you release the person into God’s care

4) Add other people to your drawing. Think of each stroke of your pen as a prayer for them. Take a breath or say “Amen” between each person

Monday, June 27, 2016

Praying on the way

Over the course of the summer months, we are gathering after Sunday morning worship for a series called "Eat, Pray, Love".  Each week, after sharing a meal together, we are learning about and using a variety of prayer practices.  I will be sharing some of these resources on this blog as well for you to use in your own life of prayer.

Pocket Prayers
Activity: take 3 items out of your pocket/bag/wallet
1)      Personal
2)      Everyday item
3)      Something that you keep meaning to take out or get rid of, belongs elsewhere

Describe each item 
-          Where did you get it
-          What is its use
-          How long have you had it with you

How might that item become a prayer?
     For example: a grocery reciept could become a prayer of thanks for a meal or it could be a petition of hope and help for all those who don't have enough to eat.

Use that prayer as a part of your prayer time or even as a short prayer as you look for your keys that you can never seem to find.

Finding/Setting apart Sacred Space:
“Be Still and Know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)
      Most of our lives is filled with activity and noise, to-do lists and calendars.  “Jesus went off by himself to pray” is a verse that is often repeated in the Gospels which echoes the Creation story when “on the seventh day God rested”.   We all need “down time” and even just brief moments of silence and rest.
        Find a spot in your home (or outside in nicer weather) where there doesn’t seem to be as much regular activity.   Place or arrange in this spot – a comfortable place to sit and a small table.  You may want to put a candle or a cross or other small item on which to focus on the table, but keep it simple.
         This is your sacred space (it can be shared with other people in your home).  It can be a place you go to for your regular time of prayer, to keep and read your Bible, to use other prayer practices or to “just be” silent with no agenda, no specific prayers, etc. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Who to blame?

My heart aches even as my mind is numb as I try to understand yet another mass shooting in our country.  We only begin to feel "normal" again when something horrific like the killing of innocent lives in Orlando shakes us out of our blind comfort.

And then in less than 24 hours, the posts and comments turn to who or what is to blame - guns, mental health, Muslims or even "the gays" themselves?  We all want to be able to definitely point our fingers at one root cause as if it is just a splinter that can be plucked out and all our pain removed.

Life is not that simple or clear cut.  We remain blinded by the lure of blaming if we believe that there is a quick or easy answer.   And ultimately, blame will not bring the victims back to those who mourn; it will not return life back to "normal" and it will never adequately answer the questions of "why?".

In trying to "un-numb" my own brain, here are a few of my own thoughts on that which has become the focus of our blame:

Muslims - While there are are extemists who claim that their violent actions are in the name of Allah, they are millions more who decry this violence and this abuse of a faith that centers around prayer and helping others, particularly during Ramadan.  Every religion as well as other ideologies have their own extremists who will distort the central teachings for their own purposes.  We cannot blame a whole group for the violence of the few.

Guns - First of all, to be honest in these reflections, I am not an advocate of guns and would support greater background checks and limited access to assault weapons.  I am  not advocating a change to our Constituation and the right to bear arms.   While there are many responsible gun owners (including my own family), there are aslo too many loopholes that need to be changed.  No, this won't necessarily keep the all "bad guys" from killing others, but it will thrawt those who act in moments of passion and rage.

Mental health - like other stereotyped groups, those with mental health issues are often only seen as "crazy".  We want to carticuture them and put them all in the same category at the same time that we don't want to talk about its impact in our own midst.   There is not enough care and support for those who suffer with mental illness.  This needs to change.  At the same time, just because someone does have this illness does not mean that they are going to go on a killing spree.

LGBTQ folks: another stereotyped group that has endured much throughout the years - not least of which has been directed from the Church.  Like everyone else, they want to be with others who they love and want to be loved in return.  Many cannot look past the "sex act" (which we don't tend to focus on with hetereosexuality) and see this central aspect that makes up all of our lives.  Jesus hung out with those who were marginalized and shunned - he would've more likely been in Pulse than Disney world.

There is so much more than I could say about any of these foci of our blame.  These brief reflections are just for the sake of getting us to move beyond blame and towards love, acceptance and ways that we can work together to prevent  future shootings.  Blame gets us nowhere except to greater fear and division.

If we are motivated by love and concern for one another, we then seek out ways to build up our community rather than tear one another down.  Getting to know and respect those who are different from our own experiences can only enrich our lives and strengthen our country.

What will you do today that builds others up, that shows the unconditional love of God in whose image we are all created?  How  will you move beyond blame to building a stronger community and world?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Water Words

Baptism is a key aspect of our lives of faith as Christians - no matter if  you were baptized as an infant or as a teen or an adult.  Baptism is a mark of our relationship with God, a sealing of the covenant that God makes with us and with which we seek to live out daily.

We enter this season of Epiphany - a time focused on light, revelation and focus - being reminded of our own baptisms.  We read the various accounts of Jesus own baptism by John the baptizer in the Gospels (take the opportunity to compare the variety of accounts in Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; amd John 1:31-45).

Beyond the rituals of baptism, what does it mean for us to be baptized?  How are we called to live our our baptisms daily?  How is it more than one day  on the calendar, but rather a way of life?

In this year's Epiphany season, you are invited to remember your baptism as well as to prayerfully seek to dive deeply into that baptism and  your relationship with God.

This Sunday, you will recieve a "water drop" with a word on it.

This is your word for at least the next month (or year, if you so choose).  You are invited to pray that word and to seek its meaning in your life and your relationship with God.  Here are a few ideas to help you in this time of exploration:
1) Look up the various meanings of your word.  Go beyond just the literal meaning, but how else has it been used metaphorically, symbolically, etc.

2) How have you experienced (or not) this word in your life so far?

3) Who has exemplified this word to you?

4) Look up this word in scripture (not all of them are in the Bible specifically, so you may need to choose a synonmym or other meaning to assist you).

BUT most importantly -
      a) How is God speaking to you through this word?

      b) What does God want you to hear in and through this word?

      c) How is God calling you to live out this word daily?

At first,  you may not like the word or it might not resonate with you.  But give it time.  Or it may be a word that you aren't as familiar with (or for the kids, they may not understand it).  Give it time.

Pray  this word

Draw or write or find a picture that exemplifies this word.

Share your thoughts and reflections about  God's word for you with others.
       (If you have a written reflection, drawing, etc. that you are willing to share through this blog, on Sunday mornings or in other ways with the congregation - let me know so that we can make that happen.)

If you have any questions or would like more direction in this prayer exercise, feel free to let me know.  If  you are unable to be there when we receive our words in worship, let me know and I can pick one out for you.

I have been praying over each of these words and asking for God to give you the word that you need to hear right now.

As Christians, we are walking wet, changed by God's words of grace that comfort, guide, support and lead us in our every day lives.  One drop of water can change the surface of an ocean; one word from God can change us and God then works through us to change the world.

Monday, October 13, 2014

As for me and my house...

This song sung by singer/songwriter, Christopher Williams, is one by Bob Dylan (I just like this version better).  It is the song that came to mind for me as I prepared for yesterday's sermon based on Joshua 24:1-15.  This chapter has the most well-known verse from Joshua that finds its way onto many a plaque "As for me and my household. we will serve the Lord" and connected to it "choose this day who you will serve".

We live in a culture that prides itself on independence and "pulling our selves up by our bootstraps".  We often focus on taking care of me and my own; we have a commercial industry that tells us again and again that its all about "me".

But as Bob Dylan reminds us in this song "it might be the devil; it might be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve somebody".  And as Joshua calls us to choose who will be serve - we are all serving somebody or something.

We may be serving our calendars, our jobs, our checkbooks, our pride, success, fear....

The choices that we make indicate who or what we are serving.  What guides your choices?  What has first place in your  life?  What/who is it that you just can't say "no" to?  Who or what are you serving?

"As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord"

In many ways, its not about making God first in  your life as opposed to second, third, fourth, but rather in choosing to serve the Lord, this choice infuses the rest of our life and our other choices. Choosing to serve God is reflected in how we spend our money or our time, how we use our gifts and talents, how we live in relationship with one another.  God does not want to be a separate part of our lives, but in all of our  lives.

"Choose this day who you will serve".

What might change for you  if all your choices and decisions were made with God in mind, with God as the guide for your life?  How might that change your life?

How will you finish this sentence: "As for my and my house, we will serve...."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I believe, help my unbelief...

For the month of August, we are looking at the CREEDS (primarily, the Apostle's Creed).  As Lutherans, this is something that we use regularly - whether its just a part of our normal worship service or in a baptism or as one of our young people and/or a new member affirms their faith.  We join them as a congregation to profess our faith using theses very familiar words
       I believe in God the Father...
               I believe in God the Son...
                      I believe in God the Holy Spirit.

While much could be said alongside the volumes that have  been written about the inner workings of the Trinity (One God revealed in three ways), I will leave that complicated discussion for another time.

The Creeds were originally developed in response to other counter beliefs (Gnosticism and Arianism, in particular).  These statements of faith were over and against what people were NOT supposed to believe. Bishops in Constantine's time (circa 325 AD for the Council of Nicea) were required to "sign on the dotted line" as their own profession of belief in these carefully chosen words.

While we don't require this same kind of signature today, the words of the Creeds have become ingrained within us.  Over the years, I have taken them for granted (much like the Lord's Prayer).  Do you too find yourself repeating them without really thinking about what it is you are saying?  Have they become so routine that we have failed to explore the depths of what they reveal about  God?

In our Affirmation (confirmation) Theme events, we explore them in greater depth, taking them apart piece by piece.  We seek to lift up how they show us the ways that God has chosen to reveal himself to us.  We seek to share how God continues still to be revealed to us today.

Over the next few weeks, we will explore these various aspects of God - as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  But we won't stop there...  For the Creeds are more than statements about God, but as we profess our faith, they are proclamations about what it means for us to speak and to live them.

In Marcus Borg's book, The Heart of Christianity, he lifts up the Latin roots of the word "creed" which means to literally "to give my heart to" (to find out more about this topic, attend the class being offered on Sunday mornings by Michael Boyd).

The heart in Hebrew understanding is not so much about how I feel about someone or something, but rather the heart is the seat of our will or decision-making.  When we give our heart to something or someone, we are committing our whole selves to that person, purpose or perspective.  We are then called to be guided by our beliefs in the ways that we choose to live our lives daily.

As our young people prepare to affirm their faith, we ask them to write their own statements of faith.  They share a few sentences about what they believe about God.

What might your own statement of faith look like?  

How would you finish one of the following sentence:
     I believe God...  
     I give my heart to....

Instead of reciting the Apostle's Creed for the remainder of August, we are asking people to write their own statements of faith and if they would be willing to share them during worship.  If you are willing to do so, please let me know.