Tag Archives: God

Cursillo – Renewal, Refreshment and Recomittment

CursilloThis week, I was given the great blessing to share my story of attending Cursillo and the impact it has had on my life with our church family.  As I continue to discern God’s call in my life, reflecting on the gifts I have received in my faith leave me in awe of our God.  Here is the text of my sermon:

When I was 8 years old, my parents went to Cursillo in the Diocese of Florida.  I don’t remember much about the weekends they were gone but it drastically changed the way our family existed after this experience for them. And a seed was planted in my life that was nurtured as I grew up in the church.  Literally, I grew up in the church.  I was baptized at 6 weeks old and won’t use all my fingers if I count the number of Sundays that my family was not present for worship times.  And just about any other days for that matter, too.  We settled down before my eighth birthday on a coastal island in North Florida, where our church home became the historic St. Peter’s Episcopal Parish in Fernandina Beach.  My church family there continues to play a significant role in my life even all these years later and it was the perfect setting for me to start my marriage with David almost 22 years ago.  It was in that first year we lived in Fernandina that the Cursillo movement began in the diocese in the mid 70s.  My parents have always been early adopters of new ideas so it was no surprise when they attended Cursillo #3 in the Diocese of Florida.

What I remember most about Cursillo back then was what it meant through my very young eyes, since I obviously hadn’t experienced it directly of course.  My parents wore their Cursillo nametags to church every week and literally hoards of folks from our tiny parish began attending this periodic retreat.  My parents sponsored about half of them I think, which meant they were driving all over the diocese at first until our diocese completed their own beautiful camp and conference center in Live Oak, about 2 hours away.  They would leave on Thursdays with their green passenger van filled with excited friends and luggage, and then on Sundays, they would hire a babysitter for us girls for a marathon afternoon and evening so they could collect their pilgrims from their weekend, arriving home far after we went to bed on a school night.  Monthly, Mom and Dad would gather with their Cursillo friends for Ultreyas at our church – which was another word for party to my ears as a child.  They also enrolled in the Education For Ministry or EFM course, started our first youth group and joined the choir.  They served on vestries and search committees, while preparing and serving at the altar.  Mom was a Daughter of the King, ECW president and Dad was in charge of the acolytes, parish fish fries and oyster roasts.  What I can see today as an adult, as I reflect on their evolution as Christians was that although we had always GONE to church…we were now going far beyond weekly attendance and my parents were seeking out ways to serve the larger church and community. When I was 16 years old, I attended Happening #19 (which is similar to Cursillo but designed for teenagers), going on to serve future Happening weekends in Florida and in my adopted diocese of North Carolina during my time in college.  I was yearning for that same feeling of connectedness my parents seemed to have to their friends through Christ, and as a young adult, I looked forward to the day when I would be able to attend Cursillo with my future husband just like my parents before me.  This gave me a great foundation.

Cursillo is a Spanish word meaning “short course” and that’s exactly it’s intent.  Participants (or pilgrims) spend three nights and three days focusing on renewal, refreshment, and recommitment to living for Christ.  Most who attend Cursillo call this a “mountain top” experience.  But as a beach girl, it was more like a “tropical island” experience for me…those days of my Cursillo weekend were spent away from the world of distractions and obligations, focused on renewing my commitment to Christ and giving me the tools to carry me beyond the weekend and into my fourth day.  People who have attended Cursillo are called Cursillistas, and for us, the fourth day is the rest of our lives AFTER the weekend is over, when we are back with our families, friends, jobs and commitments, distractions, challenges and responsibilities. 

So, back to my parents….they both began “GROUPING” after attending Cursillo; which as a young child, I thought that was code for Escape, for my mom in particular from the responsibilities of parenting three young girls.  What they were really doing was keeping one another accountable for living out their lives in Christ.  Their groups met every week and didn’t change too much over the years in membership.  My dad’s original group is still meeting today almost 38 years later, and he plans to rejoin them when he moves back to Florida later this year.  The weekend is not meant to be a one time shot of Jesus juice but rather it is designed to give us Christians a virtual road map to stay focused on what God calls us to do in the world.

As I was preparing for my talk today, I studied today’s readings, including the Gospel reading from the portion of the Sermon on the Mount that has Jesus admonishing those who murder, pass judgment on others, call others’ unkind names, and those with issues in their marriage.  There are literally zillions of ways that we Christians stray from our responsibilities of loving and caring for one another, and we will continue to do so with unfortunate frequency.  But instead of just hanging our heads and accepting the troubles we see every day, there are things we can do – things that we KNOW we are called to do as we walk with Christ.  Cursillo’s approach to a short course in the Christian Life was more than a reminder for me – it was a catalyst to jump-start my personal responsibility for the growth of my faith. 

You too may be able to identify with this self-description; having grown up as a Christian and always being an Episcopalian, choosing to have faith hasn’t really ever been a struggle for me.  I never really went through any dark periods in my life where I didn’t believe in God, or that He loved me and created me.  I had a pretty non-eventful childhood in comparison to the many challenges that I know people face in their families, and that could be viewed as lucky or even as BLESSED.  But I am here to tell you that what that sort of, flat-lined history of faith did for me – no real significant peaks or valleys – is it left me soft and complacent in my relationship with God.  I said my prayers out of habit.  I went to church every Sunday because that is what I had ALWAYS done my whole life.  I did nothing heroic, had no great transformation when facing adversity; heck, I didn’t even have to make the effort to CHOOSE to believe. My Cursillo weekend made me realize that I could no longer sit back as a spectator in my life in Christ as a passive act of faith.  I had to change my intentions to match God’s intentions when he created me and called me to follow him.

There are a lot of our daily activities and decisions, which put a barrier between God and us.  This portion of the Sermon on the Mount that we hear today is intended to reach inside of each of us and shake us up a bit. I sure hope no one here today actually has committed murder, but the other list of acts that Jesus describes in his teachings today aren’t nearly as uncommon or even socially unacceptable as murder of course.  But that is not the point at all.  We may be able to identify with the particulars of divorce, judgment and lying; and it may make us uncomfortable.  THAT IS GOOD!  Being uncomfortable is a feeling I don’t like very much and when I feel uncomfortable, I am far more motivated to do something to change myself to move out of that feeling.  And let’s face it — relying on my own decisions and myself alone, is probably what gets me in my biggest messes in life.  It is ONLY when I rely on my Savior to lead and guide me in my daily life that I show any real progress toward self-improvement.  Laws don’t necessarily help me; rules often get in my way and confine me.  But the power of God’s love gives me the strength and determination to WANT to do better in my life and to do all things in love.   Cursillo gave me the tools to consistently draw closer to Him and I am forever grateful for the chance to benefit from other’s witness of love and support that weekend and now in my fourth day.

So I ask you —- what is making you uncomfortable as you reflect on your relationship with God? But more importantly, what are you going to do about it?   I am only a witness of my OWN life and decisions, and for me, making the decision to go to Cursillo was just one stop in my journey to discern God’s call to me.  The results of my life in my Fourth Day are

·      More intentional time in prayer; more focused listening to God

·      Regular reading of the Bible as a tool for understanding my God

·      Being deliberate in my actions to carry out the Kingdom work I am called to do.

None of that is radical.  But all of it was haphazardly accomplished in my life with varying degrees of success prior to Cursillo.  But my very favorite saying I learned on my weekend was this —- Make a Friend, Be a Friend, Bring a Friend to Christ.  Friends – God calls us to love each other without discrimination of who may be deserving and to follow Him and bring others to Christ.  If I imagine myself as one of the MULTITUDES who were able to hear the words of Jesus in person at the Sermon on the Mount, I am sure I would have been both uncomfortable and COMFORTED, knowing that my Savior was sent to save me.  Not because I did anything to deserve it, but rather just because he loves me.  And then I am called to help others feel that same love in Christ.

So I ask you to prayerfully consider whether Cursillo might be just what you need to begin moving in your walk with Christ.  Talk it over with any one of us Cursillistas.  We would love to help by answering questions you may have about the weekend or what the weekend has meant to each of us – because this is just my story.  David and I shared the same weekend and had really unique experiences based on what we needed at that time in our lives.  Come to a St. Peter’s Ultreya.  Get together with one of our small groups or start one of your own where you focus on keeping one another accountable for staying faithful.

But at the very least, reflect on what little steps you can make today to focus on your prayer life, your time for study and the actions that you plan to take to live more intentionally in your relationship with God.  Our relationships with one another require effort on our part to be successful.  Let’s do the same with our relationship with Christ and take a more active role in serving and praising his name.  There is a Cursillo weekend coming in March that may be timed just right for you to attend.  Or maybe another weekend would fit better in your life.  I challenge you to take the next step if you’ve been thinking and praying about this, or to learn more about the weekend and how to grow closer to God each and every day.  Of all the relationships in my life, the one that both enriches me and challenges me the most is the one I have with God – and I am a better wife, mother, sister, friend, school principal and Child of God because of His Love.  He is longing for a deeper relationship with you and me both…let’s at least take a step to meet Him.

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Threat of the King

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Matthew 2:1-12

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Visit of the Wise Men

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

I’m not always proud of my behavior.  I strive to live out God’s plan for me every day and fall WAYYYYY short most days.  On my best days, I work to remember that everything is not about me and that my job is to further God’s work in the world where I live.  In some of my worst moments, I get caught up in feeling sorry for myself, gossiping about others, passing judgement and being pretty selfish.  It certainly isn’t pretty and when I reflect on those memories I am not proud one little bit.

But some of my worst behavior has happened when I feel threatened.  In high school, the cliques of high school girls didn’t bring out the best in me. I may or may not have behaved like a spoiled child in the face of the girl drama. As a parent, the threat of something terrible happening to my family has kept me from being rational in decision making and too protective when I needed to let go.  In my job as a school principal, parents sometimes come to my office to scream, yell and make threats toward me and our staff.  My default when threatened typically isn’t to respond with love and understanding.  King Herod most certainly felt threatened by strangers coming to Bethlehem to pay homage to a new king; sounds like it was news to him and not welcome news at that.

Herod’s response makes him seem pretty insecure (somewhat understandably in the face of the loss of his power, status and livelihood) and then he gets a bit sneaky. Go find this king so that I can worship him too, he says.  Yeah, right. That’s a bunch of malarkey in light of a few verses down the page in Matthew 2:16-18 when Herod’s insecurities leads him to make a pretty nasty decision to kill ALL the kids who meet the age criteria of this suspected king.  Talk about acting irrationally in the face of a perceived threat!

And that is exactly what it was – a perceived threat.  Not a real threat.  Jesus was born to save the world, not to rule over a small group of people.  But in the face of the threat to his identity, Herod did what seems unthinkable –  certainly a drastic response to the situation.  He acts out of fear of the unknown – and we are guilty of the same over reactions in our perceived threats today.

For me, I am fortunate to be able to live a life free of too many real threats to my safety and security.  So when I feel threatened, it is typically to my reputation, my beliefs, my lifestyle or my ability to be the winner is some competition.  But in most cases, the threat isn’t really about me.  Jesus coming into the world as a baby was no more a threat to Herod than one of the cool high school girls was to my happiness back in the day.  The threat wasn’t real, but based on a misplaced sense of self importance and our need to hold on to those things which we deem important to ourselves, rather than on the real threat of loss, pain and suffering.

This story tells of Epiphany, a feast day in the church where the manifestation of Christ is celebrated along with his baptism.  The symbolism of light in the form of a star leading the way to three strangers coming to honor a king beyond the scope of their understanding, the fulfilling of prophecy (Micah 5:2) from ancient teachings and the fact that the revelation of God sending his Son to live among the people as one of them – they certainly qualify as an epiphany where we come to understand something in a new and different way. The Feast of Epiphany is celebrated on the twelfth day of Christmas – January 6, 2014 this year, to be exact.  We are still singing Christmas carols in church (give us a break – we focused on Advent every week since Thanksgiving!) and now we find ourselves with the first of a long line of threats to the life of Jesus Christ, even as he is still a very young child living with his parents in a small town in relative obscurity.  The threat to the life of Jesus was real – yet he didn’t respond in anger, defensiveness or with malice.  He offered his other cheek, his love to the persecuted and downtrodden and his heart and salvation to all who follow him – personal status being irrelevant.  Striving to live with that unconditional love for others is what we are called to do and fall short of as humans.  But we must keep trying every day to keep perspective and discern the real threats: the very real threat of a life without Christ at the center of all we do, in all we meet and in our every day work, actions and relationships.

I haven’t killed anyone when I have felt threatened (whew!!!), but I have made others feel things other than love from me.  That’s on me, and my lesson from this reading is to stop, listen and react with love, even when it feels unnatural and contrived at first.  I know I’ll get better at it the more I do it.

Light of the world, help me to view others through the eyes of your love. When I am confronted with fear, help me to see that in you, my life is secure.  Show me the way to live every day with you as the center.  To you are the power and the glory.  AMEN.

The Time is Near

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Luke 21:5-19

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Destruction of the Temple Foretold

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Signs and Persecutions

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Being a faithful Christian is something I strive for, but know that I fall short of every single day.

With that said, what does being a faithful Christian really mean? This week’s Gospel from Luke seems to be a doomsday prediction on the surface.  Jesus teaches that our temples will fall, false prophets will lead us astray, our families will turn against ourselves and there will be some really bad stuff happening in the world.  Followers of Christ will be treated as criminals and be hated; all while wars and natural disasters are happening around us. Pretty heavy stuff, but not too far fetched if you just watch a little television in the evenings. Jesus then says the most calming things: don’t worry about preparing to defend yourself, as he will give us the tools we need to be protected and we will not be harmed in the process of all this doom and gloom.

There are a lot of preachers teaching this “end of time” preparation stuff and tons of books that attempt to explain how it all will end for us here on earth.  There are classes you can take to prepare you and your family for the end of the world by hoarding canned goods, toilet paper and gallons of water and how to live off the grid if needed.  The news is full of stories that can align tightly with the scary parts of the reading for this week as well – it’s not a huge leap to think that the end is near.

The title of this blog entry isn’t “The End is Near,” but rather focuses on the time is now.  Reading this Gospel through the first time might elevate your heart rate a little, but go back and read it again. This is a lesson on peace – peace in the here and now. Jesus tells us about all the bad stuff while at the very same time reassuring us of our safety and security in his arms.

I’m a pretty positive person who tends toward the optimistic slant in my views of the world.  So I’m drawn to the part of today’s Gospel that focuses on faith.  I hear today’s interpretation of Jesus’ words in Luke as this; “Draw near to me in faith and I will give you all the tools you need to stay on the path in the face of the world of distractions and conflict.” The folks who say that we need to be ready for the end of times are focused on their own skills and tools – I choose to let my faith give me the tools I will need that I cannot even muster from within myself on my own. It’s way easier to get discouraged and sad by the news around us than it is to remain faithful to Christ. Yet that is exactly what we are called to do.  “By your endurance you will gain your souls” is the last line of today’s reading.  Endurance is about getting back on track as we follow our Lord and Savior through this world that we humans do a great job of destroying.  And gaining my soul sounds a lot better than having enough canned goods when all is said and done. So the time is near alright – the time to get right and stay right in our faith.  There really is no better time than now to join with God in his plans for us.

In this scary world, we give thanks to you Lord, for being our protector and provider of more than we even knew we needed.  Thank you for giving us the wisdom to choose to follow you in the face of adversity.  We love you and look ahead to our perfect relationship with you through Christ our Lord.  AMEN.

Approach with Caution

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Luke 18:9-14

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

“At least I’m not like THOSE people.” I’ve said it.  I’ve thought it.  I’ve meant it.

I can be pretty proud of myself at times.  I believe it when I read a news article about my most recent professional accomplishment. When people tell me I’m a great principal, I love that feeling.  After meeting our family and chatting with our almost graduated from high school daughter, and compliments about her are given to us as parents, we can get pretty puffed up with pride.  When I do something kind for someone else and hear how I have helped them, I can feel pretty darn good about myself.  Let’s just go with this…I don’t suffer from a self-image problem or deal with debilitating insecurities.

But today’s lesson from Luke is all about the humility with which we are to approach our life in Christ.  The Pharisee does one heck of a job of pumping up and list his accomplishments to an all-knowing and all-seeing God.  It’s like he is looking for God to thank him with a big “Atta Boy!” for living a righteous life.  And in comparison, the tax-collector, that lowest of the lows in society at the time comes before God with a humble heart and asks for mercy without even raising his eyes toward heaven.   Jesus then shares that little nugget at the end about the humbled being exalted, essentially admonishing the bragger and do-gooder for forgetting that God’s gifts come without any strings attached.

To be exalted is to be elevated in status and that is exactly what Jesus tells us to will happen when we live our life in deference to the gifts of grace and mercy.  The Pharisee approaches God as if to collect what he deserves…but let’s face the truth here.  We can never do enough good and follow enough rules to ever deserve God’s mercy.  That’s the coolest and most humbling part of all – all we have to do is ask. And it is done.  That’s it.

But make sure you want the elevated status in God’s eyes, rather than search for it in the eyes of others.  With a somewhat high profile job in my community which provides a service, people tend to tell me things about myself that I could easily believe if I allowed what others’ think about me to influence my status.  I could believe that I have almost magical leadership powers if their interpretations of my leadership are correct.  I could also believe the opposite on my worst day as a principal if I let the feelings of others determine my worth.  So I try to find a balance – I am my worst critic for sure – but in God’s eyes, I am his creation and therefore must turn to him to be given the gift of grace and mercy.

Today’s parable is a cautionary tale to be wary of puffing up oneself to others and especially to God.  He knows all that we are and all that we are not without our need to list off the accomplishments and/or failures.  No matter how we are feeling about our worth to ourselves or our family/friends/community, approach God with an open heart to the gift of justification through our humility.  And we will be exalted through him.

Lord, we are not worthy to accept your gift of your one and only Son.  Yet we know that you intended that gift just for us.  Help us to stay humble in our good works and remind ourselves we are deserving of your grace and mercy.  For our exaltation is for you and for your alone.  AMEN.

Persistent Prayer

persistent prayer

Luke 18:1-8

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge

18 Then Jesustold them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Big themes in our Gospel for this week!  Here are the ones I teased out during my reflection:

  1. Jesus needs us to pray.
  2. Persistence works.
  3. Justice from humans = flawed/imperfect.  Justice from God? Perfect.
  4. Keep working on faith.

The use of parables in Luke’s Gospel is a successful way to get me to think.  I love to tell stories myself as well as hear others’ stories too – and parables make it easier for me to relate to God’s teachings.  And this parable starts off strongly with, “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart.”  It’s not written in the form of a question either – not we “should” pray, or “ought to” pray…but rather that we NEED to pray.  And then the implication of patience is stated when Jesus tells them not to “lose heart.” That reminds me of the story of how long and how hard St. Augustine’s mother prayed for him to find a relationship with God.  I bet she was frustrated with the seemingly lack of answer to that prayer, but she kept praying without ceasing.  A great life lesson as she must have wrestled with faithfulness as she begged God to be able to reach in her son’s heart and see him turn to the Lord.

Persistence is easy to have when we want it.  I have been known to shop for hours looking for the perfect shoes.  THAT is persistence!  When I want someone to change their minds about something, I can be pretty persistent in making the case for change.  Toddlers have persistence down pat at quite an early age, don’t they? So why do we give up so easily when it comes to prayer and building our relationship with Christ? Why do we walk away from the chance to have the intimacy of a relationship with God through our conversation and quiet listening time?  Why don’t we make the time for this important part of our walk with Christ?

The judge in this story is a self-proclaimed jerk and non-believer who basically rules in favor of the widow to get her off his back.  Whether that justice was deserved or not seemed to be a non-issue in the story (although widows in this day had very little influence at all).  We do that too – make decisions like this judge to mollify others whether they are right decisions or not. Maybe if the judge had been faithful to God the story could have been a different one because he would have relied upon discernment that comes from faith in God to help him with this and his many other cases.  But he held out as long as he could while she kept coming back for her justice.  Our God is much more generous and merciful than that.  He sent his Son to die for our sins; that is the kind of justice we can never deserve. And though it may feel as if the world is unfair and God isn’t listening to us, when we think about his gracious gifts to us it explains how we can find the strength in our times of greatest challenge.  In fact, without his grace, we wouldn’t be nearly as successful as we are now! And PS…his timing is perfect and way better than what we think it should be in the long run, right?

But the last line of this week’s passage is the real question, “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Gosh, I sure hope so.  And that starts with me.  Will he find faith in me if he comes tomorrow?  Will he see evidence of our love in the world we live in, building communities of faithfulness that are pleasing to him? Are we doing enough to spread God’s love in all we do and say?  Are we leaving the judging up to him and him alone? Is our praying persistent enough to keep our hearts and minds on his true love?

Lord, you are the great Judge.  You are merciful and full of grace and compassion.  Look generously on us as we strive for faith and justice and give us a heart that yearns for you.  For you are the one who knows what we need before we know for ourselves and your timing and answers to prayers is perfect.  Help us to be relentless in turning back to you each and every day.  Your saving grace is ours.  AMEN.

Growing in Gratitude

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Luke 17:11-19

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Our daughter had the most awesome caretaker when she was a year old.  Her name was NeeCee and she was loved by each member of our family.  She did really creative activities with the three little girls that came to her house every day – like field trips in the stroller to the library and our family’s favorite – baking day!  She loved the girls like they were her own, but the very best thing she did was teach the foundation of gratitude.  At 14 months old, our little girl said “thank you” for every little thing she received because it was NeeCee’s expectation 100% of the time from the each of her kids, even the ones that belonged to the rest of us!

But saying thank you the way a toddler does is not what this story in Luke is referencing. First, let’s start with the 10 lepers.  10 lepers hanging out together and walking down the road – what a sight that must have been!  Lepers lived at the lowest rung of society during Jesus’ time, so they were most likely very desperate for relief from their probably painful and definitely disabling condition.  We don’t know from this story whether they were people of faith, or just people willing to ask for healing from any Tom, Dick or Harry.  But their display of belief becomes apparent as they do exactly as Jesus says when they ask him for healing (“Have mercy on us.”).

But why did only one of the healed lepers stop to show his appreciation to Jesus?  I mean, come on, they were HEALED and headed back up the social status ladder! I remember doing something really nice for a “close friend” when I was much younger and being shocked at the lack of gratitude showed to me for my sincere effort and sacrifice I made for this friend.  It ended our friendship because I was so downright bitter about the lack of gratitude, so I can only imagine how Jesus may have felt when only one took the time to say thanks.  It’s easy to look at this story and say that 1 out of 10 lepers had the decency to say thanks for the mercy, Lord.

I’m thinking that is not the best message to take away.  For me, I know that showing gratitude for my gifts can get lost in the excitement of receiving them.  I am often guilty of taking my gifts of grace and mercy for granted.  Jesus isn’t going around Samaria and Galilee and healing in order to get appreciation and we shouldn’t do our good works for others to fish for compliments either.  But there is a tangible effort in our relationship with others when we do take the time to appreciate them for what they do for us.  Our thanks is a great relationship builder with one another and most certainly, that holds true in our relationship with Christ as well.  Doing things for others is what we are called to do.  Showing our appreciation is the least we can do and one of the most powerful tools in relationship development.  And that holds true for our relationship as followers.  The appreciation can do much in the work of our relationship, showing our intimacy and closeness to keep mindful of our gifts of grace.

I choose to focus on the one healed person who turned back and recognized his gift of healing.  The other lepers probably partied all night long celebrating their good fortune in healing.  They may have thanked God for that gift as well.  But I bet the one who took the time to appreciate Jesus had the deepest blessing of a relationship with Christ – which in the end, is better than any physical healing anyway.  His gratitude did much in the way of working in faith with God.  Our challenge is to find ways to show appreciation to our friends, families and strangers, as well as to our Lord and Savior.  It seems to be the very minimum expectation and goes the longest way to having that deep relationship we want with God.

Healing God, you give us the grace mercy we never deserve through the loving gift of your son our Savior.  Help us to find the time and the strength to be grateful for our many gifts.  We want to deepen our relationship with you and know that our gratitude will help us grow closer to you every day.  AMEN.

How Much is Enough?

mustard-seed-faith2

Luke 17:5-10

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

Have you ever looked around you and seen people who clearly have more faith than you? You know, those people who just radiate peace and that all knowing look of “No worries, God’s got this!”  We have all been a witness to our friends or family who have handled a significant health crisis who made it seem easy and reported all the miracles God had worked in their lives along with the way?  Their faith waves in my face as if to mock me and make me sometimes say, “If only my faith was as big as hers!”  If only….

So reading this passage not only brings me back to the question of how much faith is enough faith, but also makes me feel a bit bad about the obvious jealousy which can be my default.  The last line of this passage really spoke to me today, and I read it as faith enough is all the faith I need to do what I know to do as a follower of Christ. This was a good wrap up to this reading, as the first line was a hook that made me want to read more….as if there is a recipe to follow or a heavenly flowchart of “if this, then that” steps to get me to enough.  It’s also a pretty passive statement, as if Jesus’ job was to do faith TO us.

So first, I say that it is no one’s job to deepen my faith….no one but me.  I can’t complain that the sermon isn’t reaching me, the Bible was too far from my reach, the poor live too far away for me to really reach out to them or that it’s inconvenient to spend time in study, piety and action as a Christian.  I have been a passive person of faith for too long – and I have no one to blame it on.  All I can do now is re-commit every day to living a life of faith, a deep commitment to following God’s will.  I think of it like a carrot growing in the garden vs a bush with a crazy root ball; the carrot doesn’t spread out and get all tangled up as it grows.  It is singularly focused in its genetic make up.  I want my faith to be my genetic makeup too, keeping me from all distractions that put a roadblock between me and God’s plan for me.

The second lesson for me from this reading is that the faith I have is enough faith for me.  If I follow my walk with Christ and believe his word, then I have enough faith. It’s what I am supposed to do. I have found in the trials and tribulations of life that the faith I have is enough when I need it and under whatever circumstances.  And here is another note about that…we must (ok, I must!) stop comparing our faith to others.  When we see those giants of faith cross our paths, remember that each of those “giants” has the same insecurities that we all do.  And who knows what doubts they wrestle with too? My faith must be my very own.  I must cultivate my relationship with Christ and my faith will be enough.

God of grace, I draw near to you. May my faith in you and your love and mercy be a comfort to me in time of trouble and a gift in abundance as you bless me. I pray my faith will continue to be enough.  In your name I pray.  AMEN.

What Will it Take?

live-with-no-regrets

Luke 16:19-31

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

I serve as an elementary principal in a school where the majority of the students qualify for free or reduced meals.  They eat breakfast and lunch at school and for many of them, those meals are their only meals during the week.  Our students are homeless, come from broken families, worry  about their safety and have disadvantages which make their times tables, reading on grade level and concepts in science and social studies very, very challenging to learn.  For the most part, their families are doing all they can to support their children in school and none of them would ever purposely choose this life of extreme poverty for themselves or their children.  Many people in our society look at these families and make judgements about their lack of worth ethic (they should just get a job like the rest of us and stop taking from society) while driving by on the way to their safe homes and warm dinners with their families.  I’m not opening the door to debate about social justice issues, but I can’t help but think about those students I serve who didn’t choose to be born into their very challenging circumstances.

Lazarus lived one heck of a hard life in his day as well.  His name literally means “God has helped,” and this story tells how great was his reward as compared to the man who lived a “wealthy” life separated from a relationship with Christ.  There isn’t anything in this parable or the verses leading up to it about the relationship Lazarus may have had with Christ (this is not the same Lazarus as the brother of Mary and Martha who Jesus describes as his friend), but I think the name has some real significance.  The rich man in this story is described as a person who didn’t want for much in the way of material goods.  Lazarus begged outside his house and it is implied that he received nothing in the way of help from this wealthy man.  But our God takes mercy on the least of us (Matthew 5 spells this out in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”) and Lazarus is given his gift of eternal life.  His suffering is now over.  But the rich man whom we can assume did not help the least among us when he was alive is not offered the same rewards in death.  He realizes quickly how the comfort of his earthly life, without regard for the rest of humanity, has left him with regrets.  He begs for some interventions for his family still living, even suggesting a “raised from the dead” experience for them to get their attention.

This story isn’t about rich people going to hell for being rich and poor people going to heaven because they were poor during their lifetime.  Don’t apologize if you are able to live a life with luxuries.  Don’t choose poverty to get eternal life.  It’s not that simple, friends.  Instead, this is a “knock on the head,” parable and learning opportunity.  Jesus is clear – we need to be ready to serve when service is required.  We need to love on another as he loves us.  We must draw near to Christ rather than allow sin to drive us away.  And let’s be honest; there isn’t much ambiguity in the directives.  When we sit in our nice houses and ignore suffering, or miss out on showing Christ in all we do, we are CHOOSING to ignore the truth.  The truth is uncomfortable and off-putting, but that doesn’t make it less truthful.

The students I serve deserve to have the same needs met that I do.  They deserve the freedom to choose a life outside of poverty because they were given options through education, outreach and love.  They also will receive the gift of grace and everlasting life through Jesus Christ.  What will it take for the rest of us to reach out to them and others in need?

Merciful Father, there is no greater love than the love you have for your children, sending your son to die for our sins.  We want to serve you in all we say and do.  Help us to love the least of those among us, especially those who cannot help themselves.  We want to live our lives with you and have no regrets when we are united perfectly with you.  It is in your gracious name we pray.  AMEN.

Lost and Found

found

Luke 15:1-10

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And 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.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Through the wonders of social media and its ability to make miles seem insignificant, I have had the pleasure of keeping up with friends from high school I haven’t seen in almost 30 years.  Through FaceBook, I have been able to see pictures of family events, pray for friends in trouble, celebrate new life and laugh at Throwback Thursday posts.  I have been able to keep in touch in a way that didn’t even seem possible when we graduated, even with my friends of friends or folks who have the same shared memories of homeroom or after school activities.  I also share myself with them, and we have learned more about each other as we have grown into our closer to middle age years than we did in the three years of high school for sure.

One of those folks is a gal whose mom was one of my favorite teachers in high school, my 10th grade English teacher.  She was a year behind me in school, so we didn’t run in the same circles (why is that such a big divider in high school and non-existent as a barrier in adulthood???), but I have enjoyed seeing her kids as adults and hearing about her life, especially her life of faith.  She married her high school sweetheart, but as those things sometimes do, it didn’t work out for the long run.  She remarried a man and through the wonders of electronic media, anyone could see how close they were and she spoke of him with respect and love, sounding grateful to have found her life partner.

A few months ago, tragedy struck this family and her dear husband of not enough years long passed away unexpectedly.  As these things happen, I found out from our mutual friends who were posting condolence messages which prompted me to investigate this mystery loss from across the country.  I learned he died and was very sad for her, a tragedy and loss that is inexplicable to those of us standing by on the sidelines.  But in true form, she began posting status updates that read like chapters in a “Surviving Grief through Faith” book, baring open her soul about her love for her husband and the devastating loss. She told of her husband’s life of finding and living in Christ, alluding to pretty rocky places before giving his life to God.  It is touching to read her posts – they are raw, painful to read and yet always filled with the faith that has kept her afloat during this incredibly difficult time.

When I read today’s Gospel reading from Luke about the lost sheep and the lost coin, I immediately thought of her stories about her husband’s journey to faith.  A constant thread in her posts has been about how grateful she is that she is able to be confident in her husband’s presence fully with Christ now.  She has actually been able to write about that as a celebration, which has been remarkable when you consider how incredibly sad she must be every day without her best friend.  But he has been united with God, was lost and then found, and she finds strength in that because his destiny has been fulfilled. She has shared this story with her friends and neighbors (virtual and in the vicinity) to give all the Glory to God.  God wants nothing more from us than to walk with him in our lives as a constant companion.  These parables make the same point in two different ways.  The first is to celebrate the repentance of a sinner – in the presence of some previously identified sinners in the Pharisees.  The second is to celebrate the loss of something less important than a human, but something that we ourselves can find.  I see these two parables as showing us that God mourns for each lost soul and we should do the same, as if each person is as precious as our belongings and “stuff.”  God charges us to go do everything we can, sweep all the hidden corners, shine light into their darkness and keep searching until we find the ones who need to be found.  God values us more than any amount of money, but the second parable hits home because we don’t always have the same value of human life as our Lord does, and Jesus’ story brings it to our simple level of human trappings.

My high school friend is celebrating the joyful reunion of her husband with Christ.  Can we all do the same under her circumstances? Can we celebrate when we ourselves repent and return to him, knowing that we are bringing joy to our Lord by fulfilling our end of the covenant?  How hard are we looking for ways to bring others to Christ?

Forgiving Lord, thank you for celebrating our return to you when we are found and repent.  Help us as your followers to bring more people to Christ and to not stop looking until all are found.  Help us tell out the Good News in your world.  AMEN.

Involvement vs. Commitment

pig-and-chicken-alone

Luke 14:25-33

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Cost of Discipleship

25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Question: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?

Answer: In The Chicken and the Pig riddle… The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed!

– See more at: http://michaelhamburger.com/the-chicken-and-the-pig/#sthash.ej6C61vt.dpuf

A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution.

“Great Idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!”

“Not so fast.” said the pig. “For you, that’s just a contribution, but for me, it’s a total commitment.”

– See more at: http://www.jackizehner.com/2012/10/26/the-pig-and-the-chicken-a-cute-story/#sthash.6NQ8bWZv.dpuf

This passage starts off with some tough to read language.  Jesus is speaking to his followers and is quoted in this reading from Luke as saying,Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”  When I read this the first few times it came across my devotionals or in my Bible in One Year program, I just skimmed over it because it was just too hard to process.  Maybe you feel the same way – there are passages and verses in the Bible that make me so uncomfortable or are just too contradictory to process!  But if I plan to blog about the weekly Lectionary and the Gospel reading in particular, then I can’t ignore this one.  So I’ve been thinking about the Chicken and the Pig comparison:

Question: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?

Answer: The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed

The commentaries I read are all over the place in interpreting Jesus’ words, but for me, this passage speaks to the heart of commitment.  How many times have we served on a committee with other committed folks, only to have them drop out along the way?  What about all those New Year’s resolutions we promise to follow and then February rolls around and….done.  Jesus’ message seems to call us out as believers.  I read in this passage that he is basically saying that following me is not for the faint of heart or for those who just want to be involved.  It’s all or nothing according to Jesus, and that means there will be hardship in our commitment to follow him.
I’ve been blessed to be brought up in a family of believers.  Our marriage is based on being God-centered and we have worked hard to raise our daughter this way as well.  We haven’t had family members turn away from us because of our beliefs; we haven’t lost jobs because of our faith.  We can live where we want and experience the freedom that comes from living in the United States as a Christian.  I haven’t had to face the ugly side of following Jesus (read about Christians in Syria today here: http://supportsyrianchristians.wordpress.com/) but Jesus’ words hit home for me in my safe community, for now.
Jesus then goes on to talk about weighing out the consequences of being unprepared to make the full commitment to being his follower.  He uses the planning of a construction project and the planning of the King before battle as his scaffold for comparison to choosing to believe and follow him.  It’s not just a decision to be involved in our faith; it’s a decision to play the role of the pig at breakfast and be all in with nothing left behind, considering the planning as well as the consequences.
It’s a great goal. I strive for it every day and many times during the day.  And I fail.  A lot.  But I then have to decide again to run back onto the field with all the right equipment and knowledge of the game plan (can you tell we’ve been watching some College football today?).  I can’t go into this unprepared.  I have to pray, study, and commit to Christian action (also known as “regular” action but putting Jesus at the center of it all) to be more than just involved.
And when I find myself practicing my commitment to Christ, I love my family more deeply, I laugh with my friends with reckless abandon, I have more energy and time somehow in my job and my personal life, and I feel the love of Christ very closely.  When I dabble at the involvement level…well, I bet you can guess how that turns out for me as I rely on myself for my strength.  To quote a random teenager, it’s “epic fail.”
Forgiving Lord, your grace is enough for me to give you my full commitment.  When I fail, thank you for loving me enough to welcome me back.  Give me strength in adversity to stand faithfully with you in all I think, say and do.  For in you, I am fulfilled.  AMEN.

A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution.

“Great Idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!”

“Not so fast.” said the pig. “For you, that’s just a contribution, but for me, it’s a total commitment.”

– See more at: http://www.jackizehner.com/2012/10/26/the-pig-and-the-chicken-a-cute-story/#sthash.6NQ8bWZv.dpuf

A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution.

“Great Idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!”

“Not so fast.” said the pig. “For you, that’s just a contribution, but for me, it’s a total commitment.”

– See more at: http://www.jackizehner.com/2012/10/26/the-pig-and-the-chicken-a-cute-story/#sthash.6NQ8bWZv.dpuf