Found

“Calling Disciples”, He Qi (from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN)

This Sunday’s Lectionary Passage:  John 1: 43-51

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Most of us love the stories of Jesus calling the disciples.  I have this image of Jesus walking around, just an ordinary guy calling ordinary people to become a part of this new way of being, this new way of living, this new Way of understanding God and how God relates to us.  But don’t limit it to “The Twelve”, as if they are some sort of elite management team of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus was always calling people.  Some stayed on the edges of the movement, not really wanting to get too involved.  Some wandered off, only to return when it was convenient or when they felt like they wanted to be a part of it.  (They probably showed up for Christmas Eve and Easter!…kidding!)  And there were some that chose not to participate at all, opting instead to continue down their very carefully-planned life’s path.  But some, a few, went all in, becoming disciples and walking with Jesus through it all.

In the Gospel by the writer we know as John, this account follows the beginning of Jesus’ calling of the disciples.  He left Jordan and John the Baptist points Andrew and Simon Peter toward Jesus.  They follow him and then we’re told that Jesus found Philip, who was from their hometown.  Now in this week’s passage, we’re told that Philip then tries to recruit Nathanael.  But Nathanael was seemingly unimpressed, almost skeptical about what Philip was telling him.  Nathanael was the first person that we know that dared to ask questions about Jesus and this new Way. I mean, “who was this guy?”, he thought.  “Why should I follow him?”  But notice that Philip doesn’t give up.  He doesn’t argue with Nathanael.  He doesn’t berate him for not getting on board immediately.  With great faith, Philip’s response to the question was not a hard-baked answer but rather an invitation: “Come and see.”

We are all Nathanaels.  We have questions.  Sometimes we have doubts.  Sometimes this does not make sense at all. And despite what some current-day religious folks will tell you, that’s ok.  God never laid out some definitive answer or even one pathway to walk.  God never desired that we be right; God desired that we have faith.  Those two things are not interchangeable.  Faith is not a math equation where we’re trying to pursue the right answer to understand everything.  Faith is a journey full of questions and doubts and twists and turns in our pathway that lead us not to the answer but to the next step.  That’s where God is trying to lead us—the next step toward relationship, toward oneness, with God.

And look at what Nathanael did.  He wasn’t completely convinced but he turned and he looked.  And he saw.  He saw who Jesus was.  After all this time of searching, all this time of wandering around lost, he found what he had been looking for.  And, more than that, Jesus found him. The passage ends by reaching back into what Nathanael knew, back into the Scriptures that he had known even as a child.  It ends with an allusion to Jacob’s dream at the place we call Bethel.  Jacob dreamed of angels traveling up and down a ladder (actually, more of a ramp or stairway or maybe even a Mesopotamian ziggurat).  It is an interesting image, implying that our faith pathway is not a “one-way” road but rather a way that the spiritual and physical realms are connected as we travel back and forth with our searching and our questions.  And Jacob’s response to it, “Surely the Lord was in this place—and I did not know it!”, is our response over and over and over again.

Our world is strange right now, I know.  We thought the new year would bring us relief from Covid-19 and just days into it, we are met with an insurrection on The Capitol.  Are you kidding me?  It’s easy to question, to even feel lost.  It’s easy to find yourself overtaken by fear and anger.  I know I have.  But when I read this Scripture, what struck me was the notion of being “found”.  As I mentioned before, I don’t think of our pathway to faith as one limited way.  God is everywhere, inviting us to “come and see”, come and see everything, come and see all ways and all people and all incarnations of God.  Maybe lostness doesn’t happen by getting “off the path”.  Maybe lostness happens when we become so convinced that we have the answers, when we become so convinced that we are right, that we shut down or, even worse, we lash out.  I pray for all of us.  I pray for those that were victims of that attack on The Capitol.  And I pray for those that for whatever reason felt so compelled by their “rightness” (and some, dare I say, by their “whiteness”) that they would be willing to throw everything away to force what they think on others.

God is so incredibly patient with us.  God lets us wander around, sometimes aimlessly, searching and trying and trying again.  God lets us test our faith, and defy our faith, and find our faith yet again.  And in those incredible moments when we, too, feel that “surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”, God celebrates that we have found it again.  And God reminds us that we were always found.  We just have to “come and see”.     

Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God…They prayed and wrestled and sought…in season and out, and when they had found [God], the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.” (A. W. Tozer)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

With God on Our Hands

Lectionary Passage:  Luke 2: 22-35 (36-40)

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 

So before you exhale after all your cooking and wrapping and running around frantically to get everything done, I have to tell you that we’re not done.  The truth is, the birthing is never really over.  This is the Season of Christmas (as opposed to the Season of Advent that we just completed).  But we don’t get a whole lot of help from the Scriptures.  We read the story of Jesus’ birth and then Scripture accounts of the days and years that followed are spotty at best.  This passage is one of the few accounts of Jesus’ childhood.  But it is a reminder that Jesus was a Jew, lived among Jews, and, for that matter, was Jewish for his entire life.

So, in this passage that we read, our story has jumped forty days from the birth story that we read just a few days ago.  Eight days after Jesus had been born, he had, in accordance with Jewish law, been circumcised and named.  Now thirty-two days later, they go to the temple.  The trip is serving two purposes.  First of all, Mary must be purified.  According to the twelfth chapter of Leviticus, after a woman gives birth, she is impure for forty days.  At the end of that time, she is to bring an offering to the temple and be purified.  Additionally, Jesus, the firstborn son, is to be consecrated and offered to God. 

So, in this moment, a man named Simeon appears.  It says that he took Jesus in his arms.  Can you imagine Mary and Joseph’s reaction?  After all, this was their newborn, probably the first time that they had ever really had him out in public, and this old man comes out of the shadows and scoops up their child.  But something made them step back.  Was it his words, or his demeanor, or something else?  This frail, older man, held the child with a tenderness that was amazing.  He cradles Jesus in his arms and looks into his eyes.  And he begins to prophesy.

But the words were a bit different than the foretelling over the last months and weeks from angels and shepherds and the like. “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”  Simeon was a righteous and devout man.  His Jewish faith had been important to him his entire life.  And that faith included a promise that God would indeed send a Savior, a Messiah.  And he knew that his life would not end until he had seen the promise fulfilled.  So he looked down into the bright, dark brown eyes of this child and he knew. Simeon had waited his entire life for this child, for this moment.  Now he could die in peace. Don’t take that as a giving up of life.  It was his resolve.  His life, his promise, had been fulfilled.  He was at such peace that he couldn’t even imagine life being any more than it was in this moment.  He had not waited for moments or the four weeks of Advent or even a few months.  He had waited decades, his entire life, for this moment. 

Simeon’s Song, the Nunc Dimittis (Latin for “now send away”), is sometimes sung after Communion and often at the end of a funeral.  It is a plea for peace.  He is not asking for death; he is accepting it and with it, the promise of redemption.  For Simeon, death is no longer a pall that hangs over him; it is part of life.

So as Simeon, with a gleam of life in his eyes, hands the child back to Mary, he adds: This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.  In other words, once again, things are about to change.  This child is special.  This child provokes a decision that each person must make.  Notice the order.  We talk of the rise and fall of people, the rise and fall of nations, the rise and fall through history of whole societies.  But THIS child, THIS child will cause the falling and rising, THIS child will turn the world upside down and bring life.  In that moment, Mary knew that she would experience grief.   But she also knew that her grief would rise and become life.

So why are we talking about death so soon after the glory of Jesus’ birth?  Shouldn’t we get a little bit of a reprieve before we start walking to the cross?  The reason is that the two cannot be separated.  Simeon knew who Jesus was.  He saw Jesus’ life.  He saw Jesus’ death.  And he saw life again. He saw, even at that early time, the signs of redemption.

So what do we do with this?  You know, we probably should have known.  This thing for which we have hoped, and waited, had to involve us in some way.  God was born unto us.  We, like Simeon, have God on our hands.  What do we do with God now? I don’t know about you but on some level, it’s hard to find the right words.  Maybe all we have left to do is praise and sing and respond.  God has come into this world and is here, here on our hands.   

The truth, of course, is that Jesus’ coming does not end with the calendar or with the festivities or with the final packing-up.  His coming is always a beginning and a sending.  We, too, are now sent away.  We, too, are at peace with letting our old selves die and becoming the ones unto whom Christ was born. The hope that was so prevalent during Advent, the promise for which we waited and prepared, is here, right before us.  God is with us, on our hands. 

Christ has come!  God has been born unto us and we have God all over our hands.  Jesus’ coming begins our going.  We are not sent into the world with all the answers or with an assurance that we really even know what we’re doing.  Our directions, like our Scriptures, are spotty at best.  We are not called to be perfect; we are not called to be brilliant; we are called to be courageously faithful, to go, to go and be Christ in the world.  Christ has come!  And we have begun.

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)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Dis-Placed

Micah 5: 2-4

2But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 3Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. 4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 

Don’t you sort of wonder how God chose Bethlehem?  It’s not a big city.  In the big scheme of world power and wealth, it’s not really even on the map.  It was not a seat of religion.  It was not a big international port.  It was not the scene of some great military conquest.  In today’s terms, it doesn’t even have an airport.  And on the real map, it’s a little less than 4 ½ miles from Jerusalem, which was not very convenient to Nazareth, another city in our story. Honestly, it’s a small, little-known place on the outskirts of what is happening.  What a strange choice to pick to birth the Savior of the world!

Now, understand that the passage that we read did not originally associate this with the Messiah’s birth.  The original writing was probably claiming a new Davidic king, one that would rule relying on the strength and wisdom of God.  And to those in exile, those struggling to regain hope and identity and life itself, it seemed that the line of David was ending.  In all likelihood, it probably seemed like life was ending.  The gates of the city were bowing with the pounding of the Assyrian armies.  Things were about to change.  Darkness was seeping into their lives.  And the prophet proclaimed that, regardless of what seemed to be, regardless of how the people saw themselves, the Light was indeed coming, even as unlikely as it seemed to be.

Bethlehem, April, 2010 (Yes, that’s part of the wall!)

Truthfully, there’s not 100% agreement that these two Bethlehems are even the same.  But I don’t think that really matters.  Rather than honing in on the place, look instead at what God has done and what God continues to do.  See, God does not always come to the places that we expect.  God doesn’t always show up to those places that are prepared for God.  In fact, it seems that God seldom obeys those rules of life that we have created. Thanks be to God! Over and over, God comes into the outskirts of civilization. Over and over, God comes into the places that we would rather forget, into the places of the displaced, the refugee, the places of homelessness and poverty and a world that doesn’t really have room, the places that are not prepared for God to come. And in the darkest corners of the world, God enters and Light comes to be. Because, really, if God only came to the places that knew God was coming, to the places that were cleaned and sanitized and ready for the maker of the world to enter, the places that were only filled with those who knew God was on their side or agreed with them or didn’t think they needed to change into who God thought they could be, then, really, why would we need God to show up at all?  Instead, God comes to the displaced and the dis-placed.  Interestingly, God raises places just as God raises people, taking the ordinary and the less-than-suitable and breathing holiness into it.  Isn’t that amazing?

This year some of our normal places for Christmas Eve may be questionable.  In a world of masks, social-distancing, and discouragement against gathering at all, many of us will be forced to spend Christmas in new ways and perhaps in new places.  But, remember, God comes into those places that we don’t think are fit for God.  Light comes into the darkness, whether or not the darkness recognizes itself. Light seeps into through the cracks and crevices of our carefully-constructed world that we have walled off to others and begins to make a home. Light comes uninvited into those places that have only known darkness as well as those places that never knew they were dark at all. Light comes whether or not we are ready, whether or not we’ve planned it, whether or not we have done what we should do, and Light makes a home in a manger or whatever else it will find and we will never be the same.  So, this year, find yourself one of the dis-placed.  Look around you.  God is there.  Light your candle and bring the Light of God into whatever place you find yourself to be.

Whoever does not see God in every place does not see God in any place. Rabbi Elimilech of Lizhensk, 1717-1787)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

God Is Now Here

Zephaniah 3: 14-20

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; 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, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing 18as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. 19I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.

So, here we are in this short book of Zephaniah, which sets itself in about the seventh century BCE during the reign of King Josiah of Judah.  Josiah is many times characterized as the last great king, whose only equal would have been King David.  The identity of this prophet is not really very clear.  His father’s name is Cushi, which could mean that he was of Ethiopian heritage (Cush being the name for what we call Ethiopia).  This short book is primarily a book of judgment oracles that proclaim and invoke the coming Day of the Lord.  The prophet announces what is essentially cosmic destruction and demise and then at the end, the part that we read, unfolds a ninth oracle of salvation and renewal, a promise of some sort of final resolution of judgment and an assurance that the world will finally stop shaking and moving in what oftentimes seems to be an unnatural and even unbearable way.  And the Lord, no longer a seemingly inaccessible and unapproachable mover of Creation, is actually with us.  The Scripture, using the present tense (rather than the future), says, “The Lord, your God, is in your midst.”  In other words, in the midst of all your worrying, all your bemoaning of lost opportunities of the past, all your despair, is God.  God is there, right there with you.

In this Season of Advent, we spend a lot of time looking forward to God’s coming, both to the “big day” when we remember Jesus’ birth as well as the final culmination of Creation, whatever and whenever that will be.  But then this…God is in our midst.  God is here, now.  There is no waiting for God’s Presence.  God is in our midst.  Yes, it is true that we live in what could be described as an “in-between” time.  The world is now but it is not yet what it should be.  There is still poverty, homelessness, and war.  There is still a veritable shaking of the earth as it groans toward its completeness.  But God is here—right here with us, in the midst of the poverty, in the midst of the homelessness, in the midst of the war, in the midst of the shaking.  God is in our midst.

So what does that mean?  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 really fast to try to actually catch God peeking from behind some cotton-candy cloud, I suppose. (Apparently God was faster than I was!)  I wondered, though, did God have time to watch me sleep? Did God watch me take a bath? I mean, really, doesn’t God have better things to do than to watch me all the time? So somewhere along the way, we convince ourselves that God is out there or up there or somewhere down that road on which we’re traveling and that our mission is to “find God” (as if God is the one that is lost!). 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.

Well, here we were desperately searching 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, try something with me.  Look at these letters:  G-O-D-I-S-N-O-W-H-E-R-E…What do they say?  Well, it depends on your perspective.  If one is cynical, mired down with despair, buried in what “was” or what “might have been”, one might read these letters as “God is Nowhere.”  Sadly, so many in the world do read it that way!  But if one is open to faith, open to the promise of new life to come, open to the assurance that things ARE going to change, one might alternatively read the letters as “God is Now Here.”  This season of Advent is one that shows us how to relate to the notion that God is indeed now here, that God is not only with us, but has been with us all along, that God is walking with us through the darkness and leading us to the Light.

So, in the midst of a world that sometimes 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 and divide ourselves into camps, in this time straddled between a pandemic that carries death and despair and the hope-filled sight of planes being loaded with a vaccine, 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 is already here.

That’s what Christ was trying to show us.  No, things are not the way they should be and they are not the way they will be.  But God is in our midst.  The Season of Advent is not just for us to prepare for God’s coming.  It is to prepare ourselves to see with new eyes the Kingdom of God that is everywhere.  The Kingdom of God is here, already spilled into our midst and as we wait for the coming of its full completion, as we wait and “look for that day when justice shall roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”, as we wait we are called to become the people that God envisions we can be.  And “at that time I will bring you home, at that time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among [and with] all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.”  Look!  God is in our midst.  God is now here.    

Bidden or unbidden, God is present. (Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536; also attributed to Carl Jung, who supposedly posted these words above the door at his house in Switzerland)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

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