Gaudete

joy14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. 16On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. 17The Lord, your God, is in your midst. (Zephaniah 3: 14-17a)

This past Sunday, Gaudete Sunday (“Rejoice”), our third candle on the Advent wreath was the candle of joy.  I think that joy is hard for many of us to get our head around.  We Western Christians spend a lot of time pursuing happiness.  Our culture promises happiness if we will only…if we will only buy this or wear this or eat this or do this or go here or believe this way.  Many of our churches promise that God will shower us in happiness and prosperity if we will only…if we will only pray this way and do this and believe this and be this.  But happiness is elusive.  Happiness is fleeting.  Happiness is temporary.  But joy…God desires not that we be happy but that we have joy.  Joy is deep and abiding.  Joy overcomes.  Joy overpowers.  Joy can exist in the midst of the darkness—perhaps even break through the darkness given the chance.  Joy is found not in ourselves but beyond ourselves.  Joy is not something we pursue; joy is there for us already.

In this Advent season, we look for the signs that we so desperately want to see that will confirm God’s Presence.  But the signs are everywhere.  Rejoice!  Perhaps we are so busy trying to make our lives work out the way we want them to work out, to work out in the way that we think will bring us the most happiness, we are missing what is right in front of us.  As we near that holiest of nights, as we prepare to light our candles and sign Silent Night, and, if even for one moment, to feel the joy again, we need to practice by opening our eyes to God who, even now, is in our midst.

We have ten more days.  (Aaaaaggghhh!)  OK, let’s try again.  We have ten more days.  Rejoice!  The true joy of Christmas is that no matter what the darkness holds, no matter how all-encompassing it feels, no matter how many times our journey seems to lead us into quicksand, we are reminded that God comes into the tiniest of places and to the lowliest of spaces and claims them.  God claims us.  God claims you.  How can you NOT rejoice?  The celebration of Christmas reminds us that even though happiness is sometimes elusive, the joy of God-with-us settles into our soul and our minds and even our bones and stays.  God does not just come once a year in that magical candle-lighting, Silent Night-moment.  The Lord, your God, is in your midst.  The darkness may still surround you, but Joy has come and claimed a home.  Rejoice!  Gaudete!

The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. (Julian of Norwich)

FOR TODAY:  Look around.  God is in your midst.  How can you NOT rejoice?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Mine to Walk

path-795x380Scripture Passage (1 Corinthians 10: 12-13)

12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

 

Well, this is enough to rattle anyone’s self-confidence! We like to think that if we “get there”, you know, confess our sins, profess our belief, get baptized, do what we’re supposed to do, check all the boxes of good church people, that everything will turn out alright. The problem is that it’s not a one-time thing. (Yes, I’m Methodist. Sadly, we are not “once saved, always saved”.) I mean, really, what good would that do? We just spend a little bit of time on our best behavior and then we’re “in”. I don’t think God works like that. It’s not about what we’ve done; It’s about who we are. It’s about who we’re becoming. It’s about relationship. Our faith journey is long and sometimes hard and sometimes glorious. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we know we get it right. Sometimes we find ourselves diving into deep and wonderful pools of clear reviving water and other times we seem to wallow in the shallow mud pits of life. Sometimes we can feel so connected to God that there is no doubt in our minds or our hearts that the Divine is right there, almost touchable, almost approachable. But we cannot rest on the laurels of our past. That’s not the way relationships work.

 

Living a life of faith really does not allow us to become complacent. It doesn’t allow us to sit back and bask in our glorious history that we bring to the table. God’s not really concerned with the fact that my grandparents were good, church-going people (at least not as far as my faith journey is concerned). It was good for them and they taught me well. But, now, it’s mine. God wants to have a relationship with ME. That’s the reason that “inherited” faith can only go so far (which means that, thanks be to God, that whole “sins of the fathers [and the mothers]” thing also only goes so far. My faith journey is mine. It is my relationship with God. It is my walk toward and with the Divine. It is mine to walk, mine to navigate, mine to mess up and get all turned around and not know where to go. It is mine to choose to stop and stay mired in what I think is the “right” way or what hymns I like to sing or what style of worship in which I like to participate. It is mine to halt at any point and sit down and bask in what I’ve done or become laden down by what I’ve neglected to do. And with God’s grace, it is mine to begin again. Oh, don’t get me wrong. We help each other along the way. Hopefully, we can give each other what we do not have. And that, too, is God’s grace.

 

This journey of Lent is sort of a microcosm of our whole faith journey. We begin where we are (wherever we are) and we look at our self and we look at our lives and we see what we really are—beloved children of God. And then we look at the ways that we’re NOT what we really are, the ways that we have allowed ourselves to overstep or overreach or overindulge or somehow become a little too full of what we imagine we can be. We look at the ways that we do not walk with God. And then God offers a hand (or someone else’s hand) and we begin to walk. And the road twists and turns and the storms come and the sun’s heat bears down on us and the winds whip around and the sand gets in our eyes. And then we see the light of the path ahead once again and we follow it, at least until we get off track again. And in those times when we feel the path beneath us, those times when we are aware of God’s presence, those times when God’s grace seems to wrap around us and hold us, we realize that the hand we hold never lost its grip on our lives. And we relax a little. We become comfortable. We might become a little complacent again. We become a little too certain that we’ve got it figured out. And then the winds begin again and the curtain tears and the darkness descends upon us. But this time, we know to wait, to wait in holy silence until the stone of our lives is rolled away so that we can begin again. That is faith. That is the journey. We don’t travel it alone but no one can do it for us.

 

Deep within us all there is an amazing sanctuary of the soul, a holy place…to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us…calling us home unto Itself. Yielding to these persuasions…utterly and completely, to the Light within, is the beginning of true life. (Thomas R. Kelly)

 

Thank you for sharing your Lenten journey with me!

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

God is Here NOW?

Standing in God's Presence(ADVENT 3C)

14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; (Zephaniah 3: 14-15a)

When I was little I used to lay in bed and try to imagine God looking at me. I didn’t really understand what that meant, but I had been told in Sunday School that God was with us. It was odd to me. So I shut my eyes tight and opened them to try to actually see God peeking from behind some cotton-candy cloud, I suppose. I wondered, though: Did God have time to watch me sleep? Did God watch me take a bath? Did God know when my brother and I fought? (I don’t know if Donnie was as concerned as I was with that!) I think many of us still struggle with that. I mean, really, doesn’t God have better things to do than to watch us all the time? So somewhere along the way, we convince ourselves that God is out there or up there or somewhere down that road that we’re on. After all, why would God spend a bunch of time in the muck of this messed-up world. But then we read that “the Lord is in our midst.”—not out there away from us, not up there over us, not down that road patiently waiting for us to catch up. God is in our midst. God is here…among us….with us.

The Lord is in our midst—not coming, not waiting to appear like some top-billing star of the show hiding behind the curtain waiting for the big entrance, but here, now. Here we were desperately looking for God in our life and this little unsung hero of a book wedged in between all those Minor Prophets had it there all along. God is with US. No wonder we couldn’t find God! We weren’t looking in the right place! So all this time that we’ve been waiting for the Lord, God’s been here, waiting for US to notice. All this time that we’ve spent trying to figure God out and figure out what God wants and figure out how we can get to God when we should have been rejoicing. And the passage says that the Lord has taken away our judgments, just smoothed them right over, I suppose. (Actually, I think that’s called forgiveness.) The Hebrew Tanakh translation talks about it as God “soothing us with love”.   I love that, the thought of being soothed with love.  I mean, I guess it would be uncomfortable for God to hang around with us and continue to pick us apart at the same time and why would God hang around at all if it wasn’t for love?

So in the midst of a world that makes no sense, in the midst of a life that is sometimes riddled with questions and heartache, in the midst of the way we hurt each other and judge each other, God comes. God comes right there into our midst. You see, God didn’t wait for the world to be right. God didn’t wait for us to stop fighting with each other or arguing over who belongs here with us. God didn’t wait for terrorists to quit attacking innocents. God didn’t wait for us so-called innocents to quit attacking those who we think MIGHT be terrorists. God didn’t wait for us to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless. God didn’t wait for us to figure out what it means to be made in the image of God. God just came. God just showed up, really sort of uninvited because frankly sometimes we forget to do that. I don’t think that matters to God. God is not waiting for us to invite God to show up. God is waiting for us to notice that God in our midst. Maybe THIS Advent, we’ll notice. Rejoice! The Lord, your God, is in your midst! Hmmm…maybe we should get ready NOW!

 

Bidden or unbidden, God is present. (Erasmus)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

 

Why Are You Searching for Me?

Looking for God49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2: 49)

 

This passage will come in a few weeks. I won’t go into it. But the question of “why were you searching for me?” begs a lot of additional questions. After all, in this season of Advent, for whom are we waiting? For whom are we searching? Why were you searching for me? Later, the adult Jesus invites us to come and see. It’s not necessarily a fulfillment of that or whom for which we are searching. It is an invitation to come and see what is there, come and see what is offered, come and see what you were not expecting.

 

For generations, God’s people waited for the Messiah. They waited for a Savior. What is that? What is that which saves you? Who is that above all others who gives you what you need? And they imagined a king, a monarch, one who was the leader of the world. They imagined one who would lead them to victory. They imagined one who would land them on top of the heap of the world. And then they got this baby in a manger. What is that about? This wasn’t what we planned.

 

Are we really any different? What is that that you imagine will save you? Who is that who above all others gives you what you need? Who do you imagine? For whom are you waiting? Maybe the whole point is that we, like those generations so long ago, are so sure of who the Messiah is that we miss the Messiah, we miss the Presence of God that shows up in places that we did not think it belonged. The question, “why were you searching for me?” remains. Is it to save you? Is it to fix your life? Is it to affirm that the life you’ve created is the way it should be? Is it to land you on top of the heap of the world? Or are you truly searching for that which brings Truth and Grace? Are we searching for One who will enter our life? Or are we searching for a Life that will lead us to God?

 

The baby in a manger wasn’t what anyone was expecting. Who would’ve imagined that God would enter this world through a feed trough? Maybe if we would open ourselves to the possibility, or even the probability, that God comes in ways we do not plan, in ways that we do not expect, and even through those that we do not think are “of God”, then we will be able to open ourselves to whatever way God comes. So, why are you searching for me? Don’t you know I’m here with you now, in every step, in every way? Don’t you know where I am? I am here. Just open yourselves to the notion that I’m not what you planned, that I don’t fit into to this world, and that I’m calling you to change your life and change your ways so that you will know who I am.

 

Never be so focused on what you’re looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find. (Ann Patchett)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

The Wilderness is Where We Knew Where We Must Go

Transfiguration

Scripture Text:  Mark 9: 2-10

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

 

The wilderness has taught us to see things differently, to open our minds and widen our souls.  It has called us to remove the veil that we have created in our lives to shield us from the things that do not make sense in our world.  The journey through the wilderness has brought us to this place, brought us to this mountain.  Don’t you think the disciples were sort of wondering where they were going?  After all, they had left everything they had, had given up everything and sacrificed all of those things that made life secure and safe.  They did it all to follow Jesus and now they are climbing up this mountain to a place that they did not know.

The mountain that Jesus and the disciples climb sounds a lot like Mount Sinai rising out of the wilderness that Moses had ascended centuries before.  And there on the mountain, they see Jesus change, his clothes taking on a hue of dazzling, blinding white, whiter than anything they had ever seen before.  And on the mountain appear Moses and Elijah, standing there with Jesus—the law, the prophets, all of those things that came before, no longer separate, but suddenly swept into everything that Christ is, swept into the whole presence of God right there on that mountain.  And then the voice…”This is my Son, my Chosen:  listen to him!” OK…what would you have done?  First the mountain, then the cloud, then these spirits from the past, and now this voice…”We are going to die.  We are surely going to die,” they must have thought.   And then, just as suddenly as they appeared, Moses and Elijah drop out of sight and Jesus was standing there alone, completely unveiled.  And all that was and all that is has become part of that, swept into this Holy Presence of God.  And, more importantly, we are invited into it.  No longer are we shielded from God’s Presence.  We become part of it, a mirror for all to experience and encounter the living God. And so the disciples start down the mountain.  Jesus remains with them but they kept silent.  The truth was that Jesus knew that this account would only make sense in light of what was to come.  The disciples would know when to tell the story.  They saw more than Jesus on the mountain.  They also saw who and what he was.  And long after Jesus is gone from this earth, they will continue to tell this strange story of what they saw.  For now, he would just walk with them.  God’s presence remains. The Hebrews understood that no one could see God and live.  You know, I think they were right.  No one can see God and remain unchanged.  We die to ourselves and emerge in the cloud, unveiled before this God that so desires us to know the sacred and the holy that has always been before us.   The truth is, when we are really honest with ourselves, we probably are a little like the disciples.  We’d rather not really have “all” of God.  We’d rather control the way God enters and affects our lives.  We’d rather be a little more in control of any metamorphosis that happens in our lives.  We’d rather be able to pick and choose the way that our lives change.  We’d rather God’s Presence come blowing in at just the right moment as a cool, gentle, springtime breeze.  In fact, we’re downright uncomfortable with this devouring fire, bright lights, almost tornado-like God that really is God.

Here in the wilderness, with bright white lights and shrouds of wonder, we have seen God.  Here, in this place, where the wilderness has brought us.  We have arrived open-eyed and soul-ready for God’s Presence to be made known.  And this was nothing like anything that we would have imagined—Old Testament heroes re-appearing, God speaking from the cloud, and Jesus all lit up so brightly that it is hard for us to look at him.  And then the lights dim.  There are no chariots, Moses and Elijah are gone, and, if only for a little while, God stops talking.  And in the silence, Jesus starts walking down the mountain toward Jerusalem.  You know, on some level, for all the dramatic sequences of this story, I think the way down the mountain is the point of it all.  I mean, think about it, the disciples went up as students, as mentees, as admirers, and came down as followers.  The way down is where the transformation begins to be, when they know where they had to go.  Now I’m sure that Jesus knew that the ones who walked with him were not ready.  I’m sure he knew that they thought they had more time with him.  I’m sure he knew that they doubted themselves.  But it was time.  And Jesus knew that if they followed, they would know the way.  And in this moment, Jesus’ journey to the Cross begins and the disciples, for all the antics that they will pull over the next few days, begin the same journey.

And us?  I’m sure Jesus knows how difficult this has been for us.  I’m sure Jesus knows that there is a part of us that would’ve liked to have avoided the whole thing, to move from the Mardi Gras party right into the sanctuary when they are setting up the Easter lilies.  But then we would have missed the wilderness and we wouldn’t know where to go.  We know now what we must do, where we must go.  We know that we are called to follow Jesus.  The way down is hard.  Jerusalem is going to be even harder.  But the wilderness has taught us that it is where we must go.  You see, in this wilderness, we have changed.  We have learned to let go, to get out of ourselves, to see things differently.  We have learned to listen.  We have learned to follow.  And that is what we will do.  Jerusalem awaits.

 

When I first met him, I knew in a moment I would have to spend the next few days re-arranging my mind so there’d be room for him to stay. (Brian Andreas)

 

Jerusalem AwaitsFOR TODAY:  The gates of the city are just up ahead.  There is no other way around.  This is not an easy journey.  But it one that all of must walk.  As you enter this Holiest of Weeks, what do you need to leave behind?  And what do you need to carry into the city?

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

A Much-Needed Wilderness

ivan-nikolaevich-kramskoy-christ-in-the-desert1Scripture Text:  Luke 4: 1-2

 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

 

Yes, as a matter of fact, this IS the third time we’ve heard this account as part of our wilderness journey. But we haven’t heard it from the same Gospel-writer.  All three of the synoptic Gospels include the account of Jesus being led into the wilderness following his Baptism. It’s one of the few passages that was not only included by each writer, but actually was included within pretty much the same sequence in the happenings of Jesus’ life. There doesn’t seem to be any need on the part of any of the writers to “rearrange” things to further the focus that the writer was trying to impart. It’s just included. It’s part of the story. Apparently, each Gospel account recognizes this as, for want of a better word, a much-needed wilderness.

 

So have you ever thought of the wilderness as something that we NEED? We probably spend more time trying our very best to avoid it or, if it can’t be avoided, to at least hurry to the end, trying to cram as much as we can into it, but with the goal to get to the end as soon as possible so that we can go back to normal, go back to our lives. But Jesus was led into the wilderness and stayed for forty days. He had just been baptized. According to the Scriptures, John the Baptist had just pointed to who he was and what his life meant. God had proclaimed him the “Beloved”, and had voiced what pleasure the Divine took in him. He was set to go, set to begin his ministry. Standing there on the banks of the Jordan, he was ready to begin. And he did. He began with what was apparently a much-needed wilderness.

 

So for forty days, Jesus wandered in the wilderness. Sure, he was tempted to control it, tempted to overpower it, tempted to make it his. He was probably tempted to go home, although none of the Gospel-writers wrote that one down. But he didn’t. He walked the wilderness. He prayed, he looked at himself, he talked to God. My guess is that he probably argued with and questioned God a bit. (Well, maybe that’s what I would have done!) The wilderness was not any easier for Jesus than it is for us. But Jesus knew that he had to embrace the time, that preparing himself for the years to come, for the tiresome tasks of serving others, for the draining tasks of healing and teaching, for the frustrating tasks of calling others who did not always stay on the path, for the disheartening tasks of rejection and difficulty and questions, and, finally, finally, for the implausible task of walking to the Cross, had to be done in this wilderness. This wilderness would give him what he needed and he knew it. It was the place where he had to let go of his own plans and his own preconceptions of what his life would hold. It was the place where he had to take a good hard luck at himself, at the ways that he stood in the way of his own life. It was the place where he would know, finally know, that he WAS God’s Beloved with whom God was well pleased and that God would never forsake him. It was the place that, finally, Jesus knew who he was and what he was called to do.

 

We need the wilderness experience just as badly. It’s not a place where we prove our love to God or where we show how strong or how spiritual or how faithful we are. It is the place where we finally get out of ourselves, out of our routines, off the path that we have so carefully carved out for our lives, and, finally, without being able to see where we are going, we know that we are on the right path. It is the place where we can come to know who we are and what we are called to do.   Now we are ready to begin. And we return from the wilderness as a different one, as one who knows ourself as God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.  We will return famished and ready to fill ourselves with God.

 

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work. And when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. (Wendell Berry)

 

FOR TODAY:  Look around you.  Quit trying to figure a way out.  Just walk through the wilderness and see what God has to show you.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Wilderness-found

 

"The Lost Sheep", Daniel Bonnell, USA
“The Lost Sheep”, Daniel Bonnell, USA

Scripture Text:  Luke 15: 4-6

 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

 

As we have come to know, the wilderness is treacherous. It is tiresome and mind-draining. It often seems to lengthen time even as one makes his or her way through it. We become impatient. We want it to end. We want to shorten the time that it has its hold on us. We want to take shortcuts to get to the end, so we veer off the path, away from our course, thinking that we have it all figured out. We find ourselves lost.

 

It is easy in times of wilderness to think that you are alone. It is tempting to assume that you have somehow ended up there of your own doing and that you and you alone are responsible for finding your way out. We’ve all been lost before. We’ve all been in situations where we just can’t seem to find our way back. We’ve all had times whether they be physical, emotional, or even spiritual where we lose our way. We backtrack, trying to find the pathway down which we came so that we can “start again”. But everywhere we look, the choices of where to go all look the same. It becomes overwhelming. We turn and we turn and we panic and we run through this maze of choices over and over again.

 

When I was young, I was told that if I was lost, I should stay where I was. (Sometimes we’re smarter when we’re children, because we know to listen.) I think intellectually we all know that we should stay on the path and keep walking and yet, as adults, we somehow think we can fix it. We can wander with panic through life with no compass and no real help. We can try this way and that way and backtrack and veer off to nowhere. We can convince ourselves that we need no help, that we can do it. We can be tempted by the shortcuts that are offered along the way. And we stay lost.

 

Sometimes we are the lost sheep. Sometimes the wilderness seems to consume us. Sometimes the road through it seems to lengthen with each step. But where we did get the notion that solitude meant that we were alone? This wilderness journey is not one that we travel alone. God walks with us, holds us when we need to be held, and when we become the lost sheep, the one who has wandered away, God is there too. God doesn’t “fix” our way through the wilderness or speed up our wilderness time, but we are always wilderness-found.

 

We just have a couple of more weeks of this Lenten wilderness. We know that it will get harder. We know that, like many wilderness paths, it will seem to lengthen and become more treacherous as we near the end of its hold. But we do not walk it alone. Jesus, walking to the Cross, was never alone. He was in solitude; he was in prayer; he was often deserted by those who traveled with him. But God has walked this way before. God knows the way. So God will always make sure that even though the way is hard, we are always wilderness-found. And God lays us on the Divine shoulders and rejoices.

 

Look back from where we have come.  The path was at times an open road of joy.  At others a steep and bitter track of stones and pain.  How could we know the joy without the suffering?  And how could we endure the suffering but that we are warmed and carried on the breast of God? (Desmond Tutu)

 

FOR TODAY:  Let God pick you up.  Let God hold you.  Be aware of God walking with you on this path.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli