Friday, March 8, 2019

Nature therapy-- some silence and solitude

Yesterday morning was beautiful and sunny.  I kept sensing a lure, an urge, a nudge to get outside.  It wasn't to just get outside though.  It was to go to Reflection Riding for a walk, to spend some time in the woods there and in the bamboo.  I was wanting to get back to the bamboo partly because of the upcoming "Bamboo Encounter" kick off worship in May, I imagine.  But it wasn't just the bamboo. My spirit knew I needed some wide open space to meet with the Creator.

I walked on the gravel road, hearing the crunch beneath my feet.  I smelled the smoke from the fire in the pit.  I watched the horses in the field.  I saw many flowers and plants.  I heard different kinds of birds and even owls.  I heard and saw the trickling waters of springs flow over the rocks.  Inside the bamboo forest I heard the song of the bamboo as the breeze blew the bamboo.  I heard children at play. I saw and smelled the fresh cut logs that had blocked the roads from recent storms.

As I walked, there was a recurring thought that came to me: "my soul, my soul magnifies the Lord".  That comes from Mary's song of praise in Luke 1:46, yet I don't know why it was on repeat in my mind, except that as I walked throughout the the property, my soul was magnifying the Lord.

Yesterday's word for lent was "awareness".  It turns out that I was aware of quite a bit on my walk yesterday.  In that time of walking, in that silence and solitude, my heart, mind, and soul were able to become clear again.  God was able to meet me and I was able to meet God.

The work of keeping a whole soul isn't always easy.  Making time for the spiritual practices that keep me healthy and whole don't always take precedence.  There are sermons to research and write, folks to visit, call, and write.  There are quarterly preaching schedules to prepare (when you serve three churches and there are two of you preaching).  There are meetings in the churches, the district, with clergy groups.  There are CEUs (continuing education).  Then there is also family, exercise, friends, doctor visits, etc.  I talk about spinning plates and juggling balls.  Plates and balls get dropped some times.  But I know that if I am to lead well, I need to be well-- emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally.  Therefore, if I don't take care of me in self-care and soul care, I cannot take care of others. I will not be a good leader.  What is in me will come out of me.  It is my hope and desire that what comes out of me helps others in their discipleship journey, as they seek to grow.  So yesterday's time of walking in nature was a part of my work, a part of keeping me whole, a part of my ministry.

I am grateful for yesterday, for the clearing of my soul.  I am grateful for the time of silence and solitude, two spiritual practices that continue to be life-long learning opportunities for me. I am grateful for the beautiful day and everything it offered.  I am grateful for a Creator who knows me better than I know myself, who lured, urged, and nudged me to get outside into creation so that my soul could be at peace.

Below you will pictures and a video from yesterday's adventures.

Whatever spiritual practices bring you life, may you make time for them this Lenten season.

Peace on your journey,


Ash Wednesday 2019

I did my first "ashes to go" this year, in Spanish.  It was COLD!  The week prior I procured a location on Rossville Blvd., at a panadería.  Thankfully it was a clear and sunny morning.  I had an "A-frame" sign made up (velcro, so it's changeable), some bilingual give away cards, and some bilingual brochures about Ash Wednesday and Ashes to Go.

I am thankful to Jeff Crim, a Lutheran pastor, who has invited me to this second opportunity for pop up ministry in community.  Our first was on Virgin of Guadalupe Day.  It wasn't as cold or as early.

Ash Wednesday was a success in that we offered ashes to quite a few folks.  Two accepted the offer.  Another took one of the bilingual cards with the phrase on it about being dust and returning to dust.  We said "good morning" to many others and shared with those who were interested about what we were doing and who we were.

Before Jeff arrived, someone offered to buy me coffee, but I already had some.  So, instead, I was given some money to get whatever I wanted from the store.  I got some homemade tamales and a donut when I left for breakfast.  I was grateful for his kindness.

Another person offered us his three beers, which we left next to the park bench.  Still, that was an act of kindness.  I was humbled by not only these acts, but the conversation with the one who asked why couldn't denominations get along and Jeff and I were able to say that here we were, representing two different denominations and getting along quite well.  Another part of a conversation that struck me was when I shared with someone that the ashes were a symbol of our humanity.  The response was that they knew all too well their own humanity, having almost died several times.  I suspected this person was homeless.

Ash Wednesday is a time to reflect on our being, who we are and whose we are.  It is a time to ponder God's grace, love, forgiveness, mercy, and goodness.

After the Ashes to Go, I participated in an Ash Wednesday service at one of the three churches where I serve, Simpson UMC.  There is a Lenten Luncheon Series annually that is kicked off on Ash Wednesday and the Holston Georgia Parish churches and anyone in community is invited to it.  Justin shared the message on "forgiveness" and he and Wayne Cook from McFarland UMC offered the imposition of ashes.

Being able to serve and be with folks in community is rewarding.  Being able to reflect on the deeper meaning of life is humbling and freeing.

Ash Wednesday was a good way to begin the Lenten journey for me, once again.



Monday, March 4, 2019

Freedom in the Spirit-- this past Sunday's sermon

I have gotten behind in posting sermons.  Not that I post all of them, but I do try for the most part to post the transcripts, the recordings, the bulletins, some of the songs, etc.  That is, when I have time and energy.  I haven't posted sermons in the past three weeks.  Things have been busy in life.

I will start with yesterday's sermon and hopefully catch up with the other two as well.

In addition to the recorded sermon, I'm including the special music this time because I recorded it.  I don't always record the special music, but I did yesterday.

I included a song in the sermon.  You might can hear it in the recording, but I will also add it to the sermon script.

In the sermon, I mention something and include the link in the transcript.  I will post it too.

I wore my butterfly stole yesterday that I bought to wear for my niece's wedding.  I thought it was appropriate for Transfiguration Sunday, as I shared about transformation for all of us.

I don't know who reads or listens or if this meets anyone where they are, these sermons.  But, I share, in the off chance that the Holy Spirit, who is always teaching, may use it somehow, someway, for someone.




“Freedom in the Spirit”
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 (CEB)
March 3, 2019 (Transfiguration Sunday/Communion Sunday)
Fort Oglethorpe UMC

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 (CEB)

12 So, since we have such a hope, we act with great confidence. 13 We aren’t like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites couldn’t watch the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were closed. Right up to the present day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. The veil is not removed because it is taken away by Christ. 15 Even today, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But whenever someone turns back to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom. 18 All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
This is why we don’t get discouraged, given that we received this ministry in the same way that we received God’s mercy. Instead, we reject secrecy and shameful actions. We don’t use deception, and we don’t tamper with God’s word. Instead, we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God by the public announcement of the truth.
THANKS BE TO GOD.                      
Today is Transfiguration Sunday.  From the UMC page, today “we celebrate the revelation of Christ’s glory “before the passion” so that we may “be strengthened to bear our cross and be changed into his likeness.”  The focus of the Lenten season is renewed discipline in walking in the way of the cross and rediscovery of the baptismal renunciation of evil and sin and our daily adherence to Christ.”  

This prayer from The Book of Common Prayer helps us put today in perspective: “O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

As we dig into today’s passage, keep in mind that we are to become more and more like Christ, as we celebrate the revelation of Christ’s glory.

The title for today comes from verse 3:17—“The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom.”

There is freedom in the Spirit.  Amen?!  Do you believe that?  Have you experienced the freedom that comes in, with, through, and by the Spirit?  Once you have, there’s no turning back.  When you’ve been set free, you don’t go back into bondage.  You cannot un-see what you have seen. 

Before today’s key verse, 17, there are key words in other verses that might have stood out to you—hope, confidence.  In verse 17, freedom.  After verse 17, transformed.

4:1 tells us to not be discouraged.  Others versions say, do not lose heart.

Today’s passage is one that calls us from bondage and blindness into freedom, hope, and boldness, all because of an encounter with the Spirit and being transformed into the image of God (verses 17-18) [Feasting on the Word, Donald Musser, 446]

A quote from this week’s reading: “Hardened hearts are softened and blind eyes become sighted as the glory of God is revealed and lives are transformed (3:18) into God’s image.” (Feasting on the Word, Donald Musser, 446)

The life changing experience that Jesus had on the mountain, his transfiguration, is available for every one of us.  We can all be transformed.  An encounter with God will not leave us the way we were, if we are open to the life giving freedom of the Spirit.

Let’s think for a moment about what things might cause us to experience bondage or blindness. [PAUSE]

What if we were to fill in the blank for this sentence: “He/She/They was/were blinded by ______________.” What would you say?  [Now, if you’re thinking ‘she blinded me by science, then you are familiar with the 1982 song by Thomas Dolby, but that isn’t where I was going, though it did come to mind. 

Things that come to my mind that often cause us to be blinded or in bondage are: fear, hate, ignorance.  There are many other things that cause blindness and bondage. 

The good news is that there is freedom in the Spirit.

We can be transformed.  We can change.  We aren’t stuck in the environment in which we grew up, our thoughts, our habits, etc.  Because of the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed into the likeness of Christ, as we grow as disciples of Christ. 

In my preparation this week, I came across a recommended video.  I had never heard of it before, so I looked it up.  In a few minutes we will show this video.  Before we do that, I ask that we pray this prayer from Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)--

23Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

This video is a song by Montgomery and Gentry, “Some People Change”.  Listen and watch.


[Read the closing words again from the screen:]

“Here’s to the strong
Thanks to the brave
Don’t give up hope
Some people change
Against all odds
Against the grain
Love finds a way
Some people change
Thank God for those who make it
Let them be the light”

As we prepare our hearts for Holy Communion today, may we remember that there is freedom in the Spirit.  May we recognize the gospel of love, hope, and deliverance in Jesus Christ.  On this Transfiguration Sunday, the transforming power and love of God is for all of us.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Recorded sermon

Special Music

The squeaky toy that wasn't

I haven't posted my last three sermons, but I will. My life and brain have been otherwise occupied and it is hard to write, to even post something I have already written, when there isn't much space. In addition to life and brain being occupied, my body decided to wear down some last week. I have mostly recovered from that.

I decided to post about an odd thing that happened last night.

You know how cats bring home gifts to their owners? Evidently, dogs do as well.

This was my first experience with Cliff bringing us anything.

I had let him out last night and went to check on him. Usually he comes in when ready.

This time I called him and he came running in and jumped on his couch. As he did, I noticed one of his squeaky toys. It was larger than normal (see picture) as most of them lose their stuffing quickly and its legs were sticking stiffly up in the air.

My brain quickly told me this one was not like the others and I went for help. I told Riley and Charlie that Cliff had something on the couch.

We don't know when he brought it in. It was a rabbit. A decent sized one. Riley and Charlie took care of it.

You know the saying that you can't unsee what you've seen? I even used that in yesterday's sermon. I haven't been able to unsee that plump little figure with the legs straight up.

I am grateful for Riley and Charlie for handling the cleanup. I couldn't deal with it. Somehow, a rabbit was on my couch.  We never figured out exactly when he brought it in, how he got it or why. As for the latter, possibly as a gift.

Cliff wasn't punished. He didn't get in trouble. He was being Cliff.

One thing that strikes me today is that I am reminded there are things that happen in life that we cannot unsee. How do we deal with them? Calmly? In healthy ways? In ways that do no harm?

I am grateful that I didn't do what I almost did--- take three steps closer to the couch, grab that "squeaky toy" and send it flying for Cliff to chase.  If I had done that, you probably would have heard me scream. That rabbit would not have moved easily. Or, maybe it would have. I am not sure it was completely gone at that point.

Life is full of adventure, even with squeaky toys.



Squeaky toys