Just another WordPress.com weblog

Archive for May, 2014

Moving

Then [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.  Luke 24:50-51 (NRSV)

As a United Methodist pastor, I’m fully aware that I could be moved from year to year.  Fortunately, in my annual conference, the trend has been to leave many of the pastors in place for a longer period of time, and as I approach my eighth year serving the two small churches who are such a blessing to me, I’m grateful that I have been able to stay put for this long.  My hope is that I will be able to remain for a total of ten years which provides stability for the congregations as well as for my husband and me.

We discovered just how hard moving was when we moved to our new location.  It’s hard on the congregation to have lost a pastor, and it’s particularly challenging if that pastor was dearly beloved.  One of the things I faced in serving two very different congregations was that they each grieved in their own way, and they each needed pastoral care that applied to their situations.  So, as I pastored these wonderful new folks and began to learn about them and assimilate into their lives, I also went through my own grieving after having served my previous church for ten years.

This week was Ascension week, and the passage from Luke tells us about Jesus departing from this earth and leaving his disciples behind to carry on his mission and ministry in the world.  Maybe some of us can understand the range of emotions they felt as they watched him leave:  grief, fear, anxiety, wonder, hopefulness, and thankfulness.  The end of the passage tells us that they went to the Temple with joy and were continually blessing God.

What a great model for our churches and pastors when there is a change:  joy and blessing God!  We give thanks for the ministry we have had together, and we bless God even as we pray for the new “team” that will form with the arrival of a new pastor.  Can we trust God to provide for us, to give us hope and joy even in the midst of change and anxiety?  Maybe that is a model for all of life!  It’s certainly food for thought!  Praise God!

What Now?

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”  (John 14:18-19 NRSV)

This is a passage that is read most often at memorial and funeral services.  The intention is to provide assurance and encouragement to everyone as they ask the questions about where their loved one went and will they every seem them again.  Perhaps the most familiar part of John 14 is at the beginning when Jesus tells his disciples, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (verses 2-3)

The subsequent verses build on that promise.  Jesus has died and been raised from the dead, and he appears to his disciples over the following forty days to reassure them, to remind them of what he taught them, to help them bring it all together in their minds and hearts, and then to commission them.  Some of us might say, “Sure, it was easy for them, they had first hand experience and knowledge of Jesus; after all, they saw him in person.”  So what about us?

The passage from John 14:15-21 reminds us that, even though Jesus isn’t present with us in the flesh, he has sent the “Advocate” the Holy Spirit who reminds us of his teachings and calls us out of our fears and worries and challenges so that we reach out to others to share our own stories and experiences of the risen Christ.  People question and want proof, and there is proof right in front of them – through us.

Okay, so maybe our faith is a little shaky at times, maybe we worry that we won’ be able to witness to our faith in “the right way,” maybe we think we have to be confident and strong in our ability to quote scripture or speak just the right words or act in just the right way.  God doesn’t call us to be perfect (as in “flawless”), but God does ask us to be ourselves.  We are all God’s children, and as believers in the resurrected Christ, we have faith to share whether we speak about it or act on it (hopefully both). 

Christ commissions us to live in the world as his followers and to share our faith in ways that bring the presence of Christ to others.  Sounds like a huge job, but in essence, it is really living the faith that is already in us.  We aren’t sent forth with God standing at the door of the church waving good bye and telling us to have a good day; rather, the Spirit goes with us, along with the rest of the family of God who support, encourage, build up and help to keep us growing in faith. 

I joke with my congregations all the time about “my list.”  When someone asks me a question that I just don’t know how to answer (because many of those questions only God can answer), I tell them that it’s on “my list” for when I get to heaven.  Of course, once I get there, the list won’t matter anyway.  Jesus reminds us that we see God through him, and the Spirit’s presence with us keeps us in faith and knowing that one day we will see God face to face, just as we will see our loved ones again.

We can never fully experience God’s love because it’s far to large to even describe, but we can experience some of it, and we can share it so others experience it, too.  The power of God’s love flows through us in our willingness to show forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion, and kindness to others.  May we find our confidence in God’s love as we continue to walk the journey of faith with the power of the Holy Spirit in and with us.

Being Chosen

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  1 Peter 2:9 (NRSV)

When I was a growing up, we lived in a home that had a huge yard all around the house, and our yard was the perfect place to play all sorts of outdoor games like “Red Rover,” “Tag,” “Hide and Seek,” “Kick Ball,” or any other team type game.  I remember what it felt like to be chosen to be on one of the teams.  Often, because I was a little chunkier than the rest of the kids, I was chosen last with the look on the “captain’s” face that said, “Oh no, we are stuck with her!”  Yet, there were times when I was also chosen earlier, and that felt pretty good.

As Christians, we are chosen, too, as the passage from 1 Peter 2:9 says.  We are chosen by God to share the good news of God’s mighty works to others.  So, being chosen comes with responsibility.  In God’s family, it doesn’t matter in what order we are chosen because we all carry the same calling:  share God’s love with others, and tell others about how Jesus Christ made a difference in our lives. 

In order to do such marvelous work, we have been given gifts.  Some of us are given the gifts of teaching, others have preaching, still others have carpentry or cleaning or cooking or office work or raising children or being a good friend, and the list could go on and on.  Thankfully, we have a variety of gifts because many people can be reached that way.  For example, a pastor may not be able to connect with someone on a construction job, someone who is already there as a co-worker might. 

All Christians began their faith journeys as those who didn’t believe, and at some point, we all had to say “yes” to Jesus’ call in our lives no matter how big or small an event that may have been.  Faith is God’s gift to us, offered to all by the grace of God.  Once we have accepted Jesus into our lives, we then take on the joy of sharing his love wherever we are to the best of our abilities.  AND God doesn’t say, “Great!  Now go and share the Good News” without sending the power of the Spirit with us as well as companions for the journey. 

Like us, our companions have been called to make a difference in the world through living lives that show God’s love to others.  They also are there for us when we falter, have troubles, suffer illness or loss, and they continue to walk with us on the journey through the ups and downs.

So, Chosen One, may your day be filled with the companionship of the Holy Spirit and friends who are with you on this journey of life in Christ!

Good Shepherds

“[The Good Shepherd] calls his sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”  John 10:3b-4

This Sunday is called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” which contains the traditional lectionary scriptures from Psalm 23 and John 10:1-10.  In the United States, we aren’t terribly familiar with shepherds, particularly not the ones that would have been around during Biblical times.  The early ancestors of the faith were shepherds:  Abraham, Moses, David, and others, and their profession was seen as honorable and productive.  There was respect for the wandering nomads who cared for sheep and goats, and other livestock.

By the time of Jesus, shepherds had a rather stained reputation.  Many were isolated, had few (if any) social skills, were known to steal when they did darken the city gates, and they were a pretty tough bunch.  Most of them were hired by wealthier land owners who preferred to have someone else do the sheep herding, and the work of tending a flock wasn’t easy.  The Good Shepherds were the ones who really watched the flock and would find fresh places for them to graze, went out to find strays, and then herded them into some kind of protective area where they would be safe for the night.  The good shepherd would lie down across the entrance as if he was the gate, so if a sheep wandered that direction he could stop it or if some animal or poacher tried to get in, the shepherd would be right there to protect the sheep.  The shepherd was even willing to give his life to save the sheep.

Jesus as the Good Shepherd laid down his life for us, to save us from our sins, to give us reconciliation, forgiveness, and salvation through his death and resurrection.  He calls us to follow him, and he knows us by name and loves us enough to die for us.  I know for some folks, that is a hard concept.  There are many who just can’t believe such a thing happened.  I like to think we can find modern parables that help us understand the love of God in Christ.

Parenthood is one of the ways we can learn more about God’s love.  This Sunday is also Mother’s Day, and it is through the example and lives of GOOD mothers that we have a powerful witness to the love of God.  While there are mother’s who aren’t very good to their children, I suspect the majority are.  I don’t have biological children of my own, but I have step-children who are good parents, and I see their dedication and love for their kids.  My sister and sisters-in-law teach me about love for child and how they would do anything to protect and care for their children.

My own mother is probably the best example I have.  Besides my dad, we were the most important people in her life.  She sacrificed without complaint if it was for her children.  She often said that she would go hungry if it meant that her children could have a meal, and she did often go hungry.  She was fiercely protective, although she was also strict with us and didn’t allow us to stray too far before herding us back into the fold.

God’s love for us is like the power of a good mother’s love for her children.  There is an old saying – I don’t know the source – but it says, “God couldn’t be everywhere, and that’s why we have mothers.”  The love of God as our heavenly parent is recreated through the love of our parents who are our earthly shepherds.  I’m thankful to God for the gift of my parents and all who shepherded me throughout my life.  I hope you are, too, and remember to share that with them often.  Thanks be to God.

Tag Cloud