Friday, November 20, 2015

What Are You Afraid Of?

Everywhere I look, it seems fear is swirling.  These are unsettling times and the forces of evil are at work.  Violence is an obvious evil but so is fear.  Years ago, my rector, Rev. Beth Fain, told me that fear is not from God.  That stuck with me and I can see how fear is at the root of much sin.  If sin is separation from God, then the Evil One uses fear to drive a wedge between us and God and erode trust between us and our neighbor. 

Following Jesus has no guarantees.  When we welcome, serve, reach out, care, or love, we do so with no promise of safety, reciprocity, appreciation, or returned love.  Jesus gave us no easy way out.  He just said don’t be afraid and I am with you.  We can choose to be obedient or we can choose our own comfort.  But obedience and comfort are mutually exclusive.  And Jesus was obedient even when he knew that meant he would be handed over to people who would kill him.  We are so comfortable and that is what scares me the most.  As long as our focus is ourselves first and everyone else second, the kingdom will get smaller and smaller.

Jesus never made success or results his goals.  We are conditioned to control outcomes but that doesn’t leave room for God to move.  If we only do those things where there is no risk of failure, then we are only doing human stuff.  Because taking risks invites the Spirit in to transform and astound.  Our little human capacity is small and only with God’s involvement do great things happen.  If we want to do small and be small then we have that covered all by ourselves.  If we want to change the world, we have to leave enough open space for God to act. 

God is bigger than anything we can imagine or comprehend.  Can you be obedient or is certainty too enticing to take a chance on Him?  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Simple Life

Seventeen years ago, I had a dream about Jesus.  I still remember it; it was very vivid.  I’m not going to share the details here because I don’t think that is the purpose of the dream.  My spiritual director (whom my son calls my “spirit guide” LOL) suggested that I may want to be quiet and journal about the dream, that there was more to learn from it.  I took some quiet time to just be open to God after I put it off for fear that He wouldn’t show me anything.  I know, I know.  You’d think I’d be over that by now.  Today, as we talked and unpacked the gifts of this dream, I saw a cardinal fly on a tree branch outside the window.  We both stopped to watch it.  She asked me if I knew what a cardinal symbolizes.  I didn’t.  The cardinal is a symbol of holiness.   

I shared that I decorate our bedroom in cardinals for Christmas which includes the bedspread and a tree full of cardinals and other birds.  If you’ve never had a Christmas tree in your bedroom, I highly recommend it.  It’s very romantic.  Anyway, I explained that I am one of those people who decorates for Christmas before Advent so that when Advent comes, I can sit back and relax.  I am not celebrating Christmas; I am preparing for Christmas.  In the Episcopal Church, Advent is the month or so before Christmas when we prepare our hearts to receive the incarnate God as the Christ child but also to prepare for Christ’s coming again.  We’ve been waiting over 2,000 years and it could be another 2,000 years or it could be January.  On the back end, I celebrate all 12 days of Christmas and occasionally have a “fifth day of Christmas party” or the like. 

My home church, St. Mary’s, is sharing a video to prepare for Advent. (Click on Advent at St. Mary’s if it doesn’t pop up.)  It’s about simplifying our lives to prepare for Christ.  I’d been pondering what I could do to observe a Holy Advent.  I already know the shopping part will be simplified because we simply don’t have the same budget as prior years (this is good thing).  As we dug into my 17 year old dream, it became clear to me that there is nothing to DO during Advent.  I am to just BE.  And the way I’m going to do that is to be in each moment that God gives me.  If I am chopping tomatoes, I’m only going to think about the chopping and not what I need to do after dinner.  If I am driving, only focusing on driving.  As I do the laundry, just think about the task at hand.  As I wrap a gift, just focus on the beautiful paper.  Now, this is not natural for me.  I have been rewarded in my career for my multi-tasking ninja abilities.  And I am a pathological planner.  But this Advent, I am going to just BE.

I stopped to run an errand on the way home and almost fell over when the piped in music outside the store was an instrumental of “Tis the Gift to be Simple.”  [Hymn 554 for you fellow Episco-Nerds]  This hymn is probably the simplest hymn in the book.  One verse:

‘Tis the gift to be simple.  ‘Tis the gift to be free.  ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.  And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘twill be in the valley of love and delight.  When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed to turn, turn, will be our delight till by turning, turning we come round right. 

Is God calling you to just be with Him?  What would that look like for you? 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Grace Abounds

As I got ready this morning, I was humming the music from the Faure Requiem, a piece of music that includes seven movements written in the late 1800’s.  I don’t sing in the choir on a regular basis anymore but came back to sing the Requiem this past Sunday, November 1.  This was offered by the choir as the Liturgy of the Word in observance of All Saints Sunday.  The Requiem is a funeral mass and often performed on All Saints since we remember those saints we love but see no more.  It was a spirit-filled worship and the feedback from the congregation was of blessing and gratitude.  What a gift to be able to participate with this group of diverse musicians and their very talented director.

We rehearsed for about a month and at one of the rehearsals, a guest at Sunday worship came to choir practice that Thursday.  She saw we were doing the Faure Requiem and came to join us – even with her own copy of the music!  What a blessing.  When All Saints Sunday arrived, one of the soloists was too ill to sing Pie Jesu.  Lo and behold, this new choir member had sung this solo twice before and was able to step in at the last moment and sing it beautifully.  God knows what we need before we do. 

As I drove to church today, still humming the Requiem, I considered taking a different route but decided I had plenty of time and for some reason, felt I should go the way I always go.  Lo and behold, as I waited at a stoplight, I looked over and saw my sister helping to put out signs for today’s election.  I rolled down my window and said hello.  What a comfort to see her being active in her community.  My dad was very active in the community and after a long illness, died the morning after Election Day (17 years ago tomorrow).  We said at the time he never would have died while the polls were still open.   God is directing our path.

As I pondered God’s hand in the world, I remembered my sister’s healing.  Some years ago, she was told that her x-rays showed a cancerous mass and to prepare for that diagnosis.  Before surgery, she had an overwhelming experience that she could only describe as being wrapped in angel’s wings.  After her surgery to remove the mass, the doctors could not explain the results – it was not cancer.  The pathologist was so incredulous he sent the test in a second time – not cancer.  God has us in his hands. 

A few years ago, our choir director gave the choir t-shirts that she had screened herself.  They said in Greek, “Grace Abounds.”  That definitely describes the music ministry at St. Mary’s where perfection is not the goal – just a desire to share love through our voices and instruments. 

God's grace is working in the world all around us and through us.  Large or small, in the everyday or on the mountaintop, His Hand is active and the Spirit is with us.  Where have you seen God today?