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Archive for May, 2015

Instant Family

“. . . you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as God’s children.  With this Spirit, we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’  The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children.”  Romans 8:15b-16

A friend of mine took in two young boys as foster children.  Both boys had abandonment issues since they were often left alone to fend for themselves with their biological mother (the father was not in the picture, apparently).  My friend and her husband worked with the boys to give them love and a stable home, and they did all that they could to help them feel that someone was there for them and loved them.  Eventually, they adopted both boys, and even though they had been a family while the boys were in their foster care, signing the paperwork made them legally and officially a family – instant family!

When I married my husband nearly ten years ago, I didn’t just have him as my family but also his four children, their spouses, and five (now six) grandchildren.  Since he was my first marriage and I had no children of my own (except for cats and a dog), it was an amazing experience to have instant family and be a step-mother and grandmother.

My husband was brought into my family instantly and loved by all, especially by my youngest niece.  Since his parents had died years before, and he had a smaller family on his side, he appreciated my larger family with all the challenges and complex personalities that came with it.

When we are baptized or when we begin to attend a church, we instantly become part of a family.  In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he reminds the church in Rome, that they are family through the power of the Holy Spirit.  They are drawn together through Jesus’ death and resurrection and brought into the family of God.

Just like my friends’ adopted children, we are instantly made part of the family where we can be loved, supported, assured, comforted, and encouraged.  Just like my husband and I, the church family can bring acceptance and love.  Unfortunately, too many people don’t consistently experience that in a church family.  For many, family also brings images of neglect, abuse, fear, and rejection.

Yet, the church is called family, and in spite of our faults and our VERY HUMANNESS, we also know grace and unconditional love.  As part of God’s family, we have the opportunity to set an example for reconciliation, forgiveness, perseverance, kindness, compassion, and love. When we have disagreements, when we experience conflict, when we don’t get along, maybe we could choose another way than leaving the church or gossiping.  Maybe we could work through it and stop being defensive.  Maybe we could resolve, forgive, let go of our own need to be right or to have things done our own way, and instead, find ways to resolve our differences and keep drawing people into the family of God where we exercise the fruits of the Spirit.

Verse 16 says, “The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children.”  Let us find ways to bring in the positive and get through any negative.  Let us put aside our pettiness and find our common ground.  It’s not hard to find – we are one in the Spirit – with God as our center, we know where to turn.  May it be so.

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What If . . .

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  Acts 2:2-4 (NRSV)

This coming Sunday is Pentecost when we remember the bold entrance of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.  They had no idea what to expect, and I’m sure they were far from prepared for the scene that unfolded, but then, the Spirit of God doesn’t care about proper entrances or meeting our expectations – thank goodness!

For years I missed the word “violent” when referring to the sound of wind.  I remember being on Cape Cod when Hurricane Bob “whirled” through.  We had boarded up the house and sat with the radio on (since there was no electricity).  My friend’s dogs were quite anxious and agitated and panted through the whole event.  In the end, the hurricane force, violent winds, hadn’t damaged our neighborhood as much as it had other places.

The church I was serving had not been damaged, but the effects of “Bob” were much more visible since the hurricane had traveled up the Cape Cod Canal.  I remember the sound.  The wind was so strong that it shook the house, brought down trees – actually uprooting some – and it left some destruction in its wake.  Fortunately, no lives were lost because, for the most part, people paid attention to the weather people who kept informing us about how to deal with a hurricane and to be sure we were prepared.

At one point, when the eye of the hurricane was overhead, we stepped outside.  The sky was an eerie yellow color, and it was so calm that we could have heard a pin drop.  When the back end of the hurricane came through, the winds were even stronger.  We were thankful that we only lost power for a short amount of time, and it gave me the opportunity to travel to the church to see how things were there.

Because we didn’t have electricity in the entire area, we ended up getting the word out that people could come to the church where we would pool our food and grill whatever people wanted to bring.  The church’s kitchen had a gas stove, and several people brought their gas grills.  One woman brought everything she had from her freezer because it had thawed, so we gathered as church and community to share a meal by candlelight in the basement of the church.  Community was built, and laughter filled the room.

I wonder.  What if the hurricane had not come through.  Would we have found the same connection somewhere along the way?  Or did the “negative” of the hurricane open doors for people to share and laugh and eat and enjoy together?  It seems to me that the latter is what happened.

What if the disciples hadn’t trusted what Jesus asked them to do?  The church wouldn’t exist today.  In spite of all the negatives in the news and from folks who see organized religion as an outdated institution that has little to offer, “Church” really boils down to the people.  The Spirit is at work in our churches – at least a fair number of them.  The Spirit TRIES to be at work in others.

What if – what if we really embraced this Sunday’s message that the Church – that means all of us – can really share the powerful message in the world.  What if the rush of a violent wind were to sweep through our churches this Sunday and send us spilling into the streets, anxious to go home, to work, to our families, to our friends, to our other organizations and really live out our faith in the world?  What if we really believed that the Spirit would open doors for us to connect together and with others as we seek to be faithful in our walk with Jesus, the Christ?

What if we trusted Jesus’ instructions and teachings so that we can truly BE the church in the world?  What if we stopped being afraid of sharing our faith?  What if we allowed ourselves to be “blown away” by the Spirit?

What if?

Wait, Wait, Wait

“. . . a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”  (Luke 24:47-49 CEB)

This Sunday is when we remember the Ascension of Jesus into heaven.  The disciples met him in Galilee as he had instructed, and he spend his last moments with them here on earth teaching them once again about what they were called to do as his followers.  In Matthew 28, it says to “go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In Luke the instructions are to go to Jerusalem until they receive the power of the Spirit, and the writer of Luke (also the writer of Acts) continues those instructions in Acts, Chapter 1.

In other words, go to Jerusalem and wait.  Wait for the Spirit to empower you.  Since Jesus wasn’t going to be around anymore, they would need the power of God to inspire and guide them in a different way.  So they went to Jerusalem and waited, and waited, and waited.  Of course, next week, we’ll hear that the Spirit came in the rush of a violent wind and tongue – as of fire – rested on the heads of the disciples, but this week we are sitting in-the-meantime.

What does that feel like?  We all know what waiting is like.  We wait in line at the grocery store; we wait in our cars as we are stuck in a traffic jam; we wait for a special date to arrive; we wait for the baby to arrive; we wait for the results of doctor’s tests; we wait for good news; we wait for school to be over or to start; we wait and wait and wait.  How do we do that?

For many, and especially in our world today, waiting is very difficult.  We are so used to instant everything:  potatoes, microwave dinners, faster internet, cars that start without a key, cell phone access from anywhere in the world; books on smart pads or phones, and so forth.  Our society is a “get it now” society.  So waiting is hard, especially if we don’t keep busy in the meantime.

Living in the “meantime” is a challenge.  Yet, I find that when I’m doing something productive (and maybe even not so productive if need be), time seems to go faster.  What did the disciples decide to do?  They trusted Jesus’ word and waited, but they spent their time worshiping him.

There – I said it – they worshiped Jesus to “pass the time.”  Of course, they weren’t just passing the time!  They were actively involved in giving thanks and praise to God for the gift of life in Jesus and the promise of the power of the Spirit.  Today’s church can do no less.  We might try living a life of praise and thanksgiving in our daily lives and certainly on Sunday mornings when we gather together to worship, just as the disciples did.

Waiting for Jesus to act, to return, to move through the Spirit doesn’t have to be passive.  In fact, Jesus has left us instructions to go make a difference: to make disciples, to baptize, to help the poor, hungry, imprisoned, sick, naked, homeless, and outcasts of our society.  As the church of Jesus Christ in the world, we actively spread the Good News of God’s love in Christ, and we have the companionship of the Holy Spirit as well as each other.

Even though we live in the “meantime,” we can be a part of continuing the work of Christ in the world by being active.  We CAN make a difference!

Where have you reached out to someone who needed to feel the presence of Christ in their lives?

How will you worship and praise God every day?

In what ways will you share your gifts for God?

For the Love of God

“As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love . . . This is my commandment:  love each other just as I have loved you.”  John 15:9 & 12 (CEB)

This Sunday, May 10, 2015, is Mother’s Day.  It is also called “Festival of the Christian Home,” and the lectionary gospel lesson is based on Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples.  In this part of John, time is growing short for Jesus to try to teach his disciples, and he spends time praying for them as well as instructing them on what it means to be his follower.

We may see this type of interaction in the room of a dying family member who wants to speak to everyone and can’t rest or let go until he or she has been able to see all those family members and friends who are so important in that person’s life.  When my mom died a year ago last February, she wasn’t able to say any of those things.  Her mind had been robbed of memory and the ability to interact.  Alzheimer’s Disease had stolen her interactions with her family and shut her down little by little.  And yet, when we were around her, she seemed to know that we belonged to her.  The heart somehow knows – thanks be to God!

In this passage, Jesus tells his disciples that God loved him, and he has loved them.  The next step is to love each other and others.  The focus of the New Testament message is God’s love which is manifested in Jesus and then through us as the Body of Christ who carry on his ministry in the world.

For me, God’s love is powerfully carried on through those mother’s who are loving and caring and there for their children.  If we really want to know what God’s love is like, we can think of the mother or mother-figure in our lives who gave us nurture, care, support, a shoulder to cry on, a pat on the back, discipline to help us find our way, and who would have laid down her life for us.

My mom was like that.  There were four of us siblings, and Mom was a stay-at-home mother who was there for us in thick and thin.  I’m always amazed at how lightly she slept.  Maybe mother’s have a built in radar that wakes them up when they hear their child’s voice in the dark of the night.  Many times when I’ve been in a store and a child is calling “Mommy” with panic in his or her voice, I have heard the mother call the child’s name as if miraculously knowing where the child is and reassuring them not to worry.

God is like that with us.  We may not have the same visual and physical presence of God, but when we call, it is like my mom’s answer in the middle of the night when I would call out and say that I was afraid.  Or it is like the soothing hand of my mother on my forehead when I would call out to say that I didn’t feel good.  Somehow she always answered and knew.  I’m so grateful for the love of my mother, and that love was God’s gift to me.

There is an old saying (sorry – I don’t know the source) that goes:  God couldn’t be everywhere; that’s why there are mothers.”  I believe my mother brought the love of God to me.  I hope you had someone in your life who did that for you, too.  If you are a mother or mother-figure to someone – or potentially a mother – Happy Mother’s Day!  God bless!

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