Let us Run

A prayer for Sunday Worship on the road.

As the sun rises and the crowd gathers, let us run

Let us run with the joy of toddlers whose feet are learning to explore

Let us run with the abandon of children not yet frightened by what-ifs

Let us run with the courage born of trials overcome and injuries healed

Let us run with the confidence of preparation

Let us run with with the knowledge that you are here in the very air we breathe
and in the water that refreshes along the way.

You are here in the voice of the random stranger and the familiar voice in our heads

You are here in the high fives and posters and “Almost there”

Let us run until we finish,
whether first, last or middle of the pack

And then let us rest in the knowledge that you are in the resting, too

Amen

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Prayers of the People

For worship at the Fall Stated Meeting of the Central Florida Presbytery.

God of justice and mercy,

We come to you, fully aware that you are so far above us, so great that our words truly fail to express who you are, what you are capable of, and even what you are doing among us here today.

We give thanks for the many gifts you have given us, and for the opportunity to mirror your generosity in our own giving today. Bless these gifts and all of our siblings in Christ who will know freedom through the work of the Bail Project.

On this day of meetings and business

On this day when we remember the tragedy of terrorist attacks and the impact of hurricane Irma

On this day when the mid-Atlantic is facing down Florence and her sibling storms form off the coast of Africa

On this day when we in this room carry the weight of quotidian sorrow and pain, grief and anxiety

On this day, as we do every day, we need you.

We need your comfort
We need your wisdom
We need your hope
We need your strength

And so we come, asking, seeking, knocking. Some of us knocking awfully loud.

Not only for ourselves
Not only for our congregations
Not only for our families

But for the communities we represent.
The neighborhoods we know.
And the neighborhoods we avoid.

We come to you, asking, seeking and knocking for all who are in captivity today
Those in jails and prisons
Those trapped by addiction
Those humbled by oppression and poverty

And those of us who are unwittingly or willingly bound
by the systems and structures of privilege we enjoy

Give us strength to stand,
courage to speak,
and faith to believe that you are already where you call us to be and
will indeed be with us to the end of the age.

We pray this in the name of the One who came to set all your children free,
Amen

Loss and Loyalty

We start with some very familiar words from Matthew: a portion of the Sermon on the Mount. Part of the segment that we call the beatitudes. These verses are an important reminder of who the Lord blesses, the ones the Lord favors and seeks to honor:

Listen to the words of Jesus as shared in Matthew 5:3-9…
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (NRSV)

Now we’re about to take a pretty right hard turn this week, away from the teaching and catechism of the last several weeks into a narrative…

We started the summer with the 10 Commandments. The 10 Words of the Lord that are meant to define what a life of faithfulness and community look like.

As you recall, God was addressing Moses and the people of Israel, and these words or commands were to help a newly liberated people understand what God expects in this covenant relationship. In the first portion, God is concerned with the vertical relationship between God and God’s people… both individually and as a whole. And then God moves to the expectations for our horizontal relationships, the ways that God’s people might be set apart and known through the way we care for and honor one another.

Jesus himself described these relationships in light of love, how we love.
The first and greatest… biggest… most foundational understanding of who we are to be in relation to God flows from our expression of love for God in all realms of our being – heart, soul, mind, strength. And the remainder of the work is seen in our love for our neighbors – caring for others as much or more than we love ourselves.

For the last 4 weeks, we’ve taken a look at 1 John, which was a good next step, given its focus on making God’s love known in the world, as a faithful response to our encounter with God’s love in the person of Jesus.  Understanding Jesus as an incarnational fulfillment of the law, rather than a replacement of the law helps us connect Jesus’ teachings to the Jewish tradition he was part of. AND it helps us to connect to our everyday lives in these human bodies in a very real world to the life and teachings of Jesus.

Trusting in Jesus as both fully divine and fully human challenges us to more fully and engage in both the vertical and horizontal relationships that Christ represents.  

As Christ’s ambassadors here in the world, we are the embodiment, the current incarnation, of God’s love for one another, in the faith family and beyond. And our ministry grows richer and more visible as we deepen our understanding that we are God’s beloved.  It is that from that well of love that we draw our energy and joy as we serve and bless others.

Hopefully, you have heard over the past weeks, and hear me saying again today that you are God’s beloved.  You are loved. And we have all been called and equipped for a life that exhibits that same incredibly deep and faithful love.  The kind of love that our Hebrew scriptures call hesedYou’ll hear more about this next week from Karen, but we’ll start exploring the concept today.

Hesed is the kind of deep and faithful love that seems rare in today’s world – where we hear so much more about war, conflict and hatred than we do about peace, reconciliation and love.  I suspect that this imbalance has always been around. After all, there are myriad stories of bloodshed, sorrow, anger and grief in our history books and throughout the scriptures.

And thankfully, tucked into these accounts of humanity’s capacity for evil and horror, we also find reminders of our capacity for hesed… for love.

I think maybe that is why as the scrolls were gathered, we find the book of Ruth tucked into the long and difficult history of God’s people. Right alongside all those stories of struggle and war and death and corruption, we find the tale of Naomi and her daughter-in-law.  It is, in fact, the story of ordinary people, doing ordinary things.

But in those ordinary lives we see ordinary people going above and beyond the expectations of the world to display the kind of deep and faithful love that makes God’s faithfulness known.

There are no burning bushes or talking donkeys… no miracles… nothing like angels or visions…  nothing miraculous… unless, like me, you count hesed among the miracles of God.  

So… let’s turn to the book that will be our focus for the next few weeks.  The story is broken into four chapters in our Bibles, which is how we will approach the story together.

Rather than just listening, though, I invite you to help me read portions of our story.  I’ll take care of all the narration. But when you see the quotation marks that indicate one of the people in the passage is speaking, please join in and read aloud with me as you are comfortable.

Listen and read the word of God in Ruth Chapter 1

1:1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons.

2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.

4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

6 Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah.

8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud.

10 They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.”

11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.”

14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

15 So she said,  “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”

16 But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die, I will die -— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”

18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her. 19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”

20 She said to them, “Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty;why call me Naomi when the Lord has dealt harshly with me, and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

22 So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. (NRSV)

What do we hear in these words from God?
I hear the reality of fear and loss.

Elimalech feared that he would be unable to take care of his wife and their sons in a time of famine. Even as they found a place to live in Moab, they lost community, their people.

And in this new land, Naomi lost her husband. Even as she gained the love and care of Orpah and Ruth, she lost her sons.

Yes, in the midst of this loss, she has some hope. There is apparently enough grain to harvest back home. Perhaps, back in Bethlehem, she could start again.  

But this was during a time of chaos in the land… the time of the judges.  It might help us to remember the last verse in Judges, In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes (21:25).

This was not good.  This was not a good time for anyone. But life was particularly difficult for those who would have been on the margins anyway.  Those who were vulnerable.

Naomi is about as vulnerable as one could be, whether she stays in Moab or returns to Bethlehem. She actually is a case study in the way that vulnerability can be multi-layered.

She was an immigrant, a refugee.
A stranger in a land that was not her own, among people who were not her own, at the mercy of their laws

She was poor
Remember, she and Elimilech had left Bethlehem at a time of famine. They would have had very little, thus brought very little in the way of possessions with them on their trek. So, no wealth. Not much to trade.   

She was a woman in a highly patriarchal society.
An unmarried widow with with no sons had no one to claim her, no one to buy land, no one to protect her from other men who might like to claim her. no one to provide for her

We can begin to to see in Naomi’s story a pattern still common today.
A disaster – in her case a famine – but it could be a hurricane, a mass shooting, a cancer diagnosis, a war that last for decades. 

Surviving any catastrophic event forces people to make hard decisions.

And since there isn’t a limit on the number of disasters in one person’s life, those who have been made vulnerable by one disaster find themselves up against harder and harder choices, often in circumstances far beyond their control.

One need only to consider the stories of the families on our borders…

From our very beginning, people have come to America in hopes of a new beginning, whether seeking refuge from genocide during wars, or famine brought on by drought, or lack of employment and opportunity  in their home countries.

And for these immigrants and refugees, what seems like a land of promise can quickly become a harsh reality with difficulties in gaining citizenship, lack of affordable housing, few opportunities for adult education in language and literacy. Not to mention the prejudice and hostility they will likely face.

Knowing what we know about the ways families have been separated, knowing what we know of people who have died attempting to cross deserts in the Southwest and closer to home…. the waters between Cuba and Florida, I can’t help but wonder: Why?  Why do they come?

I can only imagine they are experiencing the same mix of desperation and hope that first Elimalech did as he brought his family to Moab, then Naomi displayed as she returned to Bethlehem.   

Desperate hope and just enough faith to believe that God would see them through the difficulties that make them vulnerable right now.  In the expectation that some day… some place… life will be better.

Even as they know that they risk losing everything -including their lives – to cross those borders and start over.  

So… is it any wonder that
Naomi the refugee and immigrant
Naomi the widow
Naomi the grieving mother,
as she sets out on this return journey, says to the girls she has come to love,
go back to your own families, don’t come with me.

Naomi had nothing but a whole lot of nothing to offer them.

They were young enough – If they returned to their mothers, in their fathers’ households, they might be able to marry again, have children – perhaps even sons. And in the meantime, they would be part of a family unit. They would be home.

If they come with Naomi to Bethlehem, they will only prolong their experience of dislocation, of not belonging anywhere.

I remember when I went away to college, having moved out of my parent’s house for the first time.  The more time I spent away, developing into a semi-grown human with my own separate experiences and opinions and sense of self, the less coming home felt like being home.  

And yet, living in a dorm room that had to be emptied and packed up every few months, living among people I hadn’t known very long and likely wouldn’t know forever… that didn’t feel like home either.

It was the first time I ever felt rootless, placeless, dislocated.

When we moved to Orlando almost 20 years ago now, I had no idea that it would take me a good 5-6 years to lose that same odd sense of never being truly at home. We came here for Paul’s job.   

In doing so, I left behind the people I knew from school and work, I left the church I grew up in, I left the town where I knew all the back roads and shortcuts and where to get the best kolaches.

Paul had lived out here before we met. He knew Orlando and Kissimmee and Winter Park. He knew how to get everywhere. He still had some friends in town. Connection. It was a little like coming back home.  

I knew 2 people, and both of them lived at least an hour’s drive from us.Assuming I didn’t get lost.

But like Ruth, I had promised in my wedding vows to Paul, “Where you go, I will go” Maybe not in those exact words, but that was the idea.  

When a move was clearly  the best choice for his career, I totally agreed we needed to look and go where the next best step took us. Turns out that was Orlando.

We were pretty sure that I could find a job, too. That we would make new friends. That we would find a good neighborhood where we could raise our kiddo.  

We had hope.
And not a little trepidation.

Paul had some excitement.
I had fear. And loss. And grief.

Of course, I came with him. Not out of duty, but out of the love that was and is foundational to my commitment to our relationship.

Following.
Trusting.
Hoping.
That’s what love does.

Love compels you to venture into the unknown, based on even a kernel of hope.
Based on a kernel of barley, in Naomi’s case.
And a daughter-in-law who loved her deeply and stubbornly.

And, as a community does, the women of Bethlehem welcomed Naomi home. I don’t know if you caught the word our translation used to describe the town on her return-  that they were stirred. Eugene Peterson’s translation makes more sense to my ears. He says that the town was “buzzing” and asking if it was really her, returning after so long.

And her response probably shut that buzz down pretty quickly.
A total buzzkill.

If I’m totally honest, this is the point in the story that made me fall in love with Naomi.
So much respect.
Because she did not hold back. Not one bit.

She made it abundantly clear that life had been hard.
And it was still hard.

She wasn’t ready to be pleasant, even if that was the meaning of the name she’d been given.  She was definitely not feeling it.

She was Mara.  In the core of her being..
Bitter’s my name and lamenting is my game.

She was not ready to praise God for much of anything.
She was still grieving and needed to lament.
She needed to be angry.

I believe that finally being home allowed some space for that anger.

And in the loving, persistent presence of Ruth, God honored her anger.
For God sees and loves those who have lost everything,
those who are so poor, that even their spirits are impoverished.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Through the loving, persistent presence of Ruth, God honored her sorrow and pain.
For God sees and hears the cries of those left behind,
those who are no longer able to hold onto the ones they loved.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Through the loving, persistent presence of Ruth, God was present for Naomi.
And through the loving, persistent presence of God, there was hope
Hope for the promise of a harvest to come.
Hope for the promise of life to come
Hope made real in love and loyalty.

And there’s the miracle.
Ordinary people living ordinary lives… lives filled with
Loss
Fear
Anger
Loyalty
Faithfulness
Hesed

Ordinary people loving in ways that go far above and beyond the law,
above and beyond the expectations of the world,
one ordinary moment at a time.

So look around this week…

Watch for ordinary people loving in extraordinary ways
Give thanks for their faithfulness, for God’s presence and faithfulness through them.

Watch for the poor in spirit, those who need someone to provide space for their anger, sorrow or pain.
Pray and ask God, how you might be that persistent loving presence for them.

Still making strides

It’s been a little while since I posted about my adventures in running, or much of anything personal, really. It’s funny how writing stays on the list of things I need to do, and yet… it seems like the closest I get is posting pictures on other social media.

So… what’s happened on the road since February? Let’s see…

There was the visit to the podiatrist to figure out why my left foot wasn’t happy in any of my shoes. Turns out that tendinitis and bursitis (which aren’t supposed to be visible on xrays, in case you wondered) are hard to get rid of when you stubbornly keep running through the pain.

And the opportunity to hire an excellent coach who could help me think through workouts while resting said foot… because I had a half-marathon, some 5Ks, a 10K and my first actual for-real Sprint Triathlon to be ready for.

All that means I’ve been swimming and running, and trying to get used to being on a bike for more than a couple miles at a time. And getting used to doing more than one of those things in a row. I’ve started doing spin classes, since I don’t have any real hills to train on near me. And I’ve been doing strength and balance training, so that I can be more efficient in all three disciplines.

If that sounds like a lot of work, you’re not wrong. It’s called “working out” for a reason. But it’s also a lot of fun. Most days. It’s oddly fun to challenge myself to get faster or stronger than yesterday. And it was incredible fun to climb onto my new bike, pump the legs that had endured spin classes and robo-bike programs, and actually crank up some wicked hills last Saturday.

There is nothing like completing that swim-bike-run combination to make you feel like a Bad. Ass. It is the hardest fun I’ve had in a long time. That explains why “I’ll try a triathlon” turned into “I can fit another one in this summer” and “Wait, they’re going to do one at the Daytona Speedway? I’m in.”

And frustrating days like Monday happen. Getting stronger and faster means doing pace-related workouts. To plan those, my coach and I need to know my “go hard but don’t puke” mile time.  The best way to get one of those is on a track. So I jogged over to the high school in our neighborhood to get it done.

I had no idea until I stepped out into that middle lane, just how much baggage I still carried with me. It was like my whole non-running life came back to haunt me… I was back in elementary school, struggling to finish the run portion of the President’s Physical Fitness challenge.  Then crossing the line well after all my middle school friends were headed to the dressing room. And then feeling like a total fraud as a college athlete who couldn’t break the 9-minute mile requirement.

And now, here I was, voluntarily on a track at 8am. Old enough to know better, and I had even paid someone to tell me to get out there. For just a moment, I hesitated.  Was I really ready to go around those ovals and risk feeling that inadequate again?  If I have learned nothing in the last couple years, it’s this: The only way out is through.

Funny thing is, the first lap seemed to be over really quickly, and I felt good. The track felt shorter than any I’d run on before, but it was a for-real quarter mile loop. The second and third laps were a little harder, so I shifted to sprinting straights and going easier on the curves… and there I was, sprinting the last straight to finish the mile strong.

Due to technical glitches with my watch, I don’t know what my time actually was- but I’m pretty it was closer to 9 minutes than I’ve ever been.  Bonus: No puke.

Going home?  That mile was craptacular, for a variety of reasons. But after I posted about how ugly it was, I realized that running home at all was a victory of sorts. After all, by then, I was only carrying a water bottle. That big doggie bag of emotional leftovers stayed at the track.

I’ll never have a classic runner’s physique, nor do I pedal with a sleek biker’s silhouette. I’ve got broad shoulders, but probably wouldn’t be mistaken for a swimmer . But I am a triathlete now, which is “something” as a friend commented on one of my pics from Saturday. When I joked about not knowing what, he spoke truth. “Whatever it is, it’s good and it’s strong.” I think I’ll take that and run with it.

Sprint Triathlon #2 in the books!

Living in Love

We’ll start this morning with three verses from John’s gospel, chapter 15, starting at verse 9. Listen to the word of God

9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (NRSV)

That ought to sound a little familiar…
we heard echoes of those words in the first chapter of 1 John.
There is a deep connection between our joy and God’s joy
There is deep connection between our love for God, for Jesus and for one  another, so much so that love is the key to our abiding in God.

Living in Love, remaining in love…
This is how we keep the commandments
This is how we show the world who God is.

Our final passage from John’s first epistle takes this idea and runs with it. Listen again for the Word of God to you today… this time from 1 John 4:7-21

7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.

16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.

20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.   (NRSV)

If you asked me what the Bible – in particular the New Testament – has to say about what it means for us to love one another, I would probably point you to 3 passages…

Paul’s “most excellent way” of living as the Body of Christ, which he outlines in the 13th chapter of his first letter to the church in Corinth.

The back half of the letter to the Ephesians, in particular where the household structure is described in terms of mutuality, rather than hierarchy.

And of course, I would point to this exhortation from 1 John, starting with beloved, let us love one another…

I know… those just scratch the surface of what we might say about love.  And if you asked me to choose another three from the gospels, I don’t know that I could narrow it down that far.

After all, Jesus tells us over and over again what the kingdom of God looks like.  And over and over again, it looks like grace, forgiveness, healing, hope… all stacked up on a foundation of love.
Love for God.
Love for neighbor.

The law of love, we call it.
The first and greatest commandment and the second, which is like it.
And which – according to our letter – flows directly from the first

…those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.  

But let’s back up just a bit.. I want to look again at a couple of segments closer to the start of this letter that will help us see more clearly what John means when he speaks of abiding in God’s love.

First, we need to recall how John summarized God’s commandments back in chapter 3, verse 23.
1- We are to believe in Christ
That Jesus lived, died and was resurrected
That this man Jesus was and is the Christ – the Messiah.

And 2- we are to love one another.
In ways that reflect and honor the light of the world,
rather than remaining in darkness of the world

We are to love one another
In ways that reveal the power of resurrection in us
In ways that show that we are alive in the love that Christ has given us…
Rather than living as though our hearts are dead, as if Christ remained in the tomb, and love died with him.

Those are pretty high expectations for what love looks like, if I’m honest. And yet, I don’t hear any doubt in this letter. I don’t see any reason to think this sort of love is unattainable.

Beloved, he writes…  Dear ones…
Let us love one another because love is from God;
everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

And in fact, my friends, my siblings in Christ…
God is love.
God is love.

God’s very identity.
God’s very being.
Is.
Love.

And here’s the what John has been building to in the letter:
Because we are from God.
Because Christ is in us.
Our love is from God.
Our identity is in God and from God

Therefore, because God is love, our identify ought to be expressed in ???
Yes.  LOVE.

When we abide in God, we are abiding in love,
Steeping in love, marinating in love.

And when we are living in love, sharing that love,
When we are embodying that love, we are abiding in God.

Yes, it is our duty.
You could say that love is the work to which we are called, and you’d be right.
You could say that love is the work for which we were claimed, and you would not be wrong.
The bigger truth, dear ones, beloved ones, is this:
Love is the work for which we were made.
It is who we are.  

if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

When we love one another, we are transformed
The one who loves, AND the one who is loved.
BOTH are changed.

It is how we reach our potential… how we are perfected…
Yes, perfected, though not in the sense of being flawless.

There’s not a great English term for the original word here… telos.
Telos is more like a goal… or like a fervent hope.

When the Apostle Paul speaks of Christ as the telos of life.. .that to which he aspires, but has yet to attain,  Paul is saying that to be and live more like Christ is his greatest desire.   

God’s greatest desire for us… that which would bring the greatest joy…
God’s telos for us, God’s beloved…
we humans who bear the image of our creator

God’s greatest hope… God’s goal is for you and I to know how deeply we are loved,
To know that same love from one another, and then to proclaim and extend love ever outward, so that all the world might wake up to who they are.

Beloved, we are to love God and love one another,
Not because God needs more people loving and worshiping for the sake of being loved and worshiped…
But because our love for one another, our love for our fellow travelers on this planet, that is how people come to know and believe.

I’ll tell you, I’ve spent enough time with evangelical folks and missionaries to have heard every version of every argument and logical case for the existence of God and the claims of Jesus as Christ.

I have all manner of apologetics from Augustine to CS Lewis to Timothy Keller.   

I have read way too many tracts and answered plenty of knocks at my door that led to plenty of long conversations on my front porch.

And you know how much of that helped me to believe in God?
None of it.
Not one bit convinced me they had proof of God’s existence.
Or Jesus’ divinity.
And I am, really, a pretty logical kind of gal.

You want to know how I came to know that God is real?
Love.
Being loved by another.

Being loved by a family of faith way before I could contribute anything of value… nothing but some noise in the sanctuary and a dirty diaper in the nursery.

And being loved by that same community of faith when I was old enough to understand how to  withhold what I could have given in return.

Being loved by those who knew and know me at my least loveable.

The proof of God’s love came in my being loved and being told that I am loveable when every voice in the world… including my own inner critic… was shouting otherwise.

In being told often enough, loudly enough, from deep enough in the heart…
that I am beloved…

And eventually, the proof of God’s existence came from my loving others loudly enough, often enough, exhaustingly persistent enough from the very depths of my own heart…  

Beloved, let us love one another…
Because love is from God.
Because opportunities to love are from God.

You know… this time last week we were praying for the soccer team that was trapped in the cave in Thailand. The boys and their coach were all rescued, thanks to the efforts and expertise of thousands of people, including many divers who risked their lives, and one who died, as the team prepared and then worked the plan that eventually brought them home.   

I was fascinated by a story in last Sunday’s Washington Post.  Shibani Mahtani wrote the piece about the assistant coach who had taken the boys into the cave.  It was the title that first caught my eye: He Loved them More than Himself.  

Ekapol Chantawong  joined the Wild Boars soccer team as an assistant coach about three years ago. But before that, he was a Buddhist monk. See, Ekapol was orphaned at the age of 10.  He went to a monastery, where he trained as a monk for about 10 years. But then had to leave when his grandmother fell ill. He moved to northern Thailand to help care for her, spending part of his time working at a local temple.

He also started working with the soccer team part time. Many of the young men he mentored were poor or from minority groups that left them cultural orphans. A friend of Ekapol’s told the article’s author that “he loved the boys more than himself.”

His love for them led him to help the head coach find ways to use the boys’ passion for soccer as motivation for academic work. Good grades might mean new soccer gear. Opportunities to experience a different life. His love for them led him to spend time beyond soccer, getting to know their families, their hopes, their sorrows.

As the world became aware of the boys and their coach, trapped in a cave, friends grew worried for Ekapol.  His love for them had earned the boys’ complete trust.  That trust is what allowed them to follow him into what turned out to be a life-threatening adventure. His friends knew that he would blame himself for the mess they were in. That his love for them would break his heart, if any of the boys were injured or worse.

But the complete trust that he had earned… this is also what allowed the boys to follow his lead when they needed help staying calm.
When they needed to conserve energy.
When they needed to stave off hunger and fear.

Ekapol was able to teach them how to meditate and slow their breathing to conserve oxygen.  He sacrificed his share of the little food they had among them, so that the boys would have more.

It isn’t hard to see why this young coach was and is seen by many in his country, and especially in his community as an almost divine force, sent to protect the boys in their ordeal.

Someone created a cartoon drawing of Ekapol. It shows the coach sitting cross-legged, as a monk would do in meditation, with 12 little wild boars in his arms.

It’s a just lovely, isn’t it?

You know, when I read his story and saw this image, I couldn’t help but think of the drawings on the covers of some of our children’s Bibles – and even in the stained glass right over there – depicting another divine force. The image of Jesus, inviting the young children to come to him.

Whether Ekapol would use the same language for the divine or not, I do believe he was the love of God made flesh- not only in the cave, but as he cared for those boys, saw their potential and worked to give them hope through something as simple as soccer.  

He loved them enough that he would have laid down his life for them.
Just as he loved his grandmother enough to lay down his vocation.

He loved them enough to want to keep them whole,
Just as he will be loved back to wholeness by the boys he loves, by the parents of his players and by the community members who know that he is more than one bad decision during an afternoon out with the team.

Beloved, let us love one another,
For opportunities to love are from God

Including opportunities to love people who are not our people… at least not on paper. People like Jim. If you were to draw diagrams of our interests – from sports to pop culture to politics or theology, you would see a really interesting trend. There are probably twice as many areas in which we are polar opposites as there are areas that overlap.

And when there are differences between us, they are in those HARD areas.  You know the ones. The ones that can tear families and churches and feels like maybe even can tear a whole nation apart…

But the thing is, Jim and I love each other.

We took the time to get to know each other. To hear each others’ stories. To be part of each others’ lives. So now, it’s not hard to love Jim. And it’s not hard to be loved by Jim, to share concerns and joys, to pray with and for one another and our families.

We love one another, not in spite of our differences.
And not because we ignore our differences.
But because we honor our differences and trust in the love of Christ that binds us together as children of God.

Now – I do think we can make it hard to love one another. We can make it hard to love and to be loved. I think that’s because there are times that we aren’t ready to enter into a relationship wholeheartedly… open heartedly.

Sometimes because of past or recent hurts.
Sometimes because of spiritual immaturity, which has little to do with age, by the way.
Sometimes we aren’t ready because we have found ourselves in a spiritually dry season

For whatever reason, these are the times that our hearts are not open to the kind of vulnerability and courage that living in love requires.

Those are the very moments we need to recall that
we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

We need to recall that
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, [and with shame and embarrassment that feels like punishment] and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

We need to recall that
19 We love because he first loved us.

And we need to recall that
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, [or short of hatred, choose to withhold love and acceptance of their brothers and sisters] are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

Beloved, we need most of all to remember that we are capable of love
We are called to love
We were made to love.
Just as we have always been loved.

If God is for us
If Christ is with us
If the Holy Spirit is in us
Then we can trust that the God of love is coursing through our veins and energizing every molecule of every cell in our bodies.

Beloved, let us love one another… just as God first loved us.

Living in the Light

Today’s text from the gospel of John describes John the Baptist’s response to seeing Jesus the first time. Remember this took place along the Jordan, near Bethany, where John was calling folks to repent and baptizing them. Just the day before, he had told his own disciples that he was awaiting the one who would baptize with the spirit, rather than the water John used. Listen:
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1: 29 NRSV)

And now we turn to our selection from 1 John.  We continue on from the first four verses that you read last week.  Listen again for the word of God:

1:5 This is the message we have heard from him [Jesus] and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (NRSV)

Sunday morning worship in the Disciples of Christ congregation that formed my faith as a child and young person was pretty similar to our presbyterian way of worshiping.  I mean- I still miss celebrating communion every time we open the church…

But there’s one I part of our order of worship that I don’t recall hearing back in the day.  Not until I started attending a Presbyterian church. And now it is – apart from communion – the portion of our worship that carries the most weight for me as a worshiper.

I remember the first time I heard a worship leader invite the congregation to pray and confess our sins together… It piqued my curiosity, for sure. Partly because they incorporated these words from 1 John:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  

Now- I’m not sure how many times I heard that invitation before I realized it was a direct quote from the Bible.  Honestly, it just sounded like deep truth about my reality… our human nature… and our need for the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Oh, how we need that grace.
Not just the saving grace that justifies us once and for all.
But the sanctifying grace that reconnects us day by day, moment by moment, thought by thought…  to the truth of God’s love for our fickle and wayward human hearts.

Given the apostle Paul’s statement that all sin and fall short of the glory of God…
And given the fact that just about every theologian since Augustine agrees that humankind is capable of great depravity…
I feel fairly confident in saying I am not the only one in this room who stands in need of that grace.  

But here’s the thing that I had to learn about these prayers of confession.
They aren’t about me. I mean, they aren’t entirely about me.
They are about us.
Even when they aren’t literally about the “us” that is currently gathered in this space.

These prayers of confession are about our connection to all of God’s children.
Those we know and love,
those we sleep with in the same house,
those we greet in this place,
those we wave to in the neighborhood.

Prayers of confession are about all God’s children… the ones who live and work and play in cities and towns and villages all over this country and around the world.

Whether they call themselves Baptists, Presbyterians, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, agnostic, humanist, unitarian, or spiritual but not religious.  

All God’s children.

You see, John isn’t talking primarily about individuals confessing individual sins.
Oh, we can and must confess the sins that we commit on our own.
That is a given.

But let’s think again about what prompted this letter from John. This letter was written to a community of faith, a collective of souls.  And unlike the gospel attributed to John, which was focused on the divinity of Christ, this letter is written to a community that needed to recall the humanity of Christ.

Why?  Because Jesus – the person, the man who walked and talked and ate and slept right here on earth, wrapped up in human skin – Jesus is the way God encountered humankind. God encountered us in a particular human being at a particular time. **

Which means that the love of God, the living out of the love of God is more than a mere concept, more than a nice idea.
The love of God has been and can be fully embodied.
The Word was and can be made flesh.
Right here.
In this messy and chaotic and – yes, dark and sinful – world.

John is saying to his readers, and to us –
that the Word made flesh is what it looks like to love God and love our neighbors.
The Word made flesh is what it looks like to keep God’s commands.. All 10 of them.
And that we – the followers of that Word, the followers of that Jesus who was the Christ, are the embodiment of God’s love in this current age.

John wrote this letter to a community of faith, a household of siblings in Christ, whose fellowship was broken.  

They had broken fellowship with one another, and thus with God.
There was disunity in the house, and thus their joy, John’s joy, God’s joy…
all that joy was incomplete.

And so, he reminds them, there is need for confession, for forgiveness.
There is need for truth-telling.

You’ll note that there was not a call for finger-pointing
Nor was there a call for blame-laying.

But there was a call for telling the truth about ourselves.
To ourselves.

To bring into the light those things we do “in the dark.”
Those things that we’d just as soon leave hidden.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me more than a little squirmy. You know… that squirmy feeling down in your gut…  you know the one? Yeah… I’m not a fan of that feeling.

So I would just as soon not go back and look at things I’m ashamed of.  Much less take them out of their little boxes that are tucked back into those dark hidey holes of my heart and name them.

Even when we do so in silence… when it’s just between me and God. I mean, that’s why I need longer silence in our prayers of confession… so I’ve got time to work up the courage to go into those hidey holes and open those boxes.

And that’s when it’s just between me and God.
Except… it really rarely ever is just between me and God.
And that’s the whole point.

That thing about broken fellowship?
That’s not about taking God’s name in vain…
That’s about the ways we fail to love one another

That thing about broken fellowship?
Sure, it’s partly about the community that gathers here.
But it is also about many ways the church has failed to be God’s love to and for our neighbors out there in the world.

Broken fellowship is all about about not quite living in the light… in truth…
The difference between fellowship and broken fellowship?
That’s all about integrity. And the lack thereof.

That’s about living the words of scripture that we say we hold dear…
In ways that allow the world to see and believe we are followers of Jesus.

It’s about taking seriously the work God requires of us…
“to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”

Jesus prayed that the world would know his followers by our love.
Our love for God, yes,
but Jesus made clear that the would ought to know us by our love
for one another and for our neighbors.

So… how’s that going?
No really… how do we think that’s going?

Based on your faces, I know you and I could could swap some anecdotes about ways we’ve gotten it wrong.

And if we take a look at what public interest researchers like the Pew Forum and evangelical pollsters like the Barna group have to say…  You’re right… Not so great.

Year after year, a growing number of people identify as de-churched (meaning they have left church for the forseeable future). The same is true for those who have never been members of a church, or would claim a connection to God but have no desire to be part of organized religion.

Many of these folks point to what they see of the church – whether in their own communities or as represented in the media – as the problem.

There are “too many Christians doing un-Christian things”, and “organized religious groups are more divisive than uniting”. According to Pew, large numbers of these folks believe that while churches do good works, faith communities can also be too concerned with money and power, too involved in politics and too focused on rules.  

Chances are good that you know at least one or two folks, maybe even in your own family, who have opted out of church. They probably have a story to tell about why. And it likely has to do with something other than Sunday morning worship being scheduled at an inconvenient time.  

The stories I have heard from unchurched and dechurched folks are not mine to tell, but I will say this: Now, more than ever, people are watching the church.  This church and all churches.

They are watching to see how we respond to the cries of the marginalized and oppressed.  To see whether we will advocate for and serve the least of these. Because they know that this is what Jesus commanded.

They are watching.

They are watching the church, and I can assure you that they have come to trust these words from Maya Angelou:
When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

This is one reason I put on my clergy shirt, grabbed my rain jacket and headed downtown for the Families Belong Together rally yesterday.

I spotted a couple of other presbyterians there, but no other clergy in a collar or stole. Perhaps the raincoats hid them, but I made sure mine was visible, even in a downpour.  

Because people are watching.
And the church needs to be seen living in the light,
being a physical manifestation of the love of God for our neighbors.

The coalition of neighbors that organized yesterday’s rally includes groups representing the minority and immigrant communities directly affected by recent policy changes and rulings.  

Being love to our neighbors sometimes means standing in a downpour, giving away your umbrella and praying for speakers who are sharing their stories of fear and grief through tears in front of a huge crowd of strangers.  

Offering light and love to our neighbors also means thanking police officers who are out in that same rain to assure that everyone is safe.  

Loving our neighbors means showing up.
I believe this with all my heart.
Because I have seen that loving our neighbors has ripple effects we might never expect…

Which leads me to a story that Jan Edmiston shared last week.  Jan was elected co-moderator of our denomination at the 2016 General Assembly, sharing the duties with another minister, Denise Anderson.  They both participated in the protest march that took place in St. Louis.

I was also among the several hundred of our commissioners joined with local activists and pastors in their efforts to end an unjust cash bail and work house system in the city. While GA offerings typically will go to support a local cause, this was the first time we added voice, hands and feet to the effort. And we were quite noisy walking from the Convention Center to the courthouse.

But that isn’t the story I want to share… just the background. Listen to what Jan wrote on her blog about her ride to the airport:

I took a Lyft to the airport last Friday, leaving General Assembly early for a wedding in Philadelphia. It had been a great week for a long list of reasons and I was staring into space and relishing the memories when this conversation happened:

Lyft Driver Kevin:  Were you here for a conference?

Jan:  Yes, the Presbyterian Church USA.  You might have seen us on the news Tuesday night.  We were on the local Fox channel.

LDK: Why were you on the news?

Jan:  We marched from the Convention Center to the Courthouse with $47,000 to bail out some people who couldn’t pay their cash bail.  It was our worship offering from Saturday.

LDK:  Your church did that?

Jan:  Well, it’s not just my church.  But yes, we did that. We paid the bail to release about 3 dozen non-violent offenders.  It was pretty great.

We got to the airport, pulled over, and when we went to his trunk to retrieve my luggage, Kevin said, “I feel like I’ve met a friend today. That’s the best thing the Church has ever done.”  

And he hugged me good-bye.

This is what the world is looking for, my friends:  less talking, more concrete ministry that helps those in need here and now.  It wasn’t the very best thing the Church has ever done, but – like I said to Kevin – it was pretty great.

It was pretty great because the church was being the church.  And I can assure you that among that crowd of commissioners and delegates marching, there was a lot of diversity of opinion.  When we got back to our meetings, there was plenty of debate and plenty of contested votes. But trusting that Jesus would have us fight this injustice, were were out there- together- being love for God’s children in the city.

Living in the light, building koinonia.

It was a really just a drop in the bucket, when you look at all the work that our siblings in Christ are doing up there.

Much like Orlando, St. Louis proper is fairly small, with lots of cities and municipalities squished up against each other.  There is a lot of history there, much like there is here, some of which has remained unconfessed, unrepented and unresolved.

The events surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson – no farther from the Saint Louis convention center than this church is from downtown Orlando-  those events laid bare some of that history, some of the sin that needs confessing by our churches and the civic structures that Jesus followers have been part of.

And so much has happened since… in Baltimore, Dallas, Baton Rouge, New York, Detroit… even here in Orlando.

A lot of folks would like to pretend that racial injustice doesn’t exist.
That strongly held religious beliefs are fine reasons for refusing to treat all people with the same dignity.
That talking about loving everyone
is all that Jesus requires of us.  

But when I read this first letter from John, I see a call to the church that says exactly the opposite.

I see a call to integrity.
A call to a life in which our words and actions are a coherent whole.
A call to make sure that people really can know us by our love…
Because they see us doing exactly that – loving.  

I hear in this letter a call to community,
A community of relationships in which we confess and trust that we are forgiven… and not only by the one who embodied the amazing grace of God by taking on flesh.
We are also called to be a community in which WE are the embodiment of that grace and love for one another. Right here in the flesh.

Becoming that community – that church… living in the light together?
That is walking into hard stuff… making yourself vulnerable stuff.

Because what we’re talking about is the kind of work that requires spiritual courage and maturity.

Confessing the sins that have held us captive:
Sins of our own and those who came before us
Sins of commission and omission

Approaching those who have been sources of pain,
Opening up about wounds kept hidden and fighting the urge to lash out.   

Listening to those who were wronged.
Listening with hearts that are open to confession and repentance,
even as we fight the urge to reframe or tuck our sins back into those dark hidey holes.

We’re talking about a pathway to letting go of the past and
trusting God for a future in which we are truly being the Body of Christ

It can be hard work, learning to live in light.
No… not can be.
It is hard work, learning to live in the light and persisting against all the ways that the world would have us go back to old patterns.  

But it is only when we commit to that hard work that we can experience the truth of this invitation:

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  (Matthew 11:28-29, NRSV)

What a paradox:
Committing to the hard work of living in the light of Christ… That is where we will find rest

Laying down the burden of sin, our shared sin, our common separation from God’s love and from the depth of love we can offer one another.
Laying down the burden of conflict.
Laying down the burden of shame.

That is where we will find rest

Living in fellowship – community – family – that is built on a foundation
Of mutual care,
Of Confession and forgiveness

That is where we find rest, dear friends.
Rest for our souls, weary with trying to find our way in this present darkness…

Let us pray…  

** I am deeply grateful for the written commentaries and podcast for the 1 John series posted at Working Preacher for articulating some of these big themes with great clarity.

PresbyNerds Assemble!!!

Usually, I type up my posts at the keyboard of my trusty MacBook, sitting at my desk or kitchen table. Maybe at a local coffee purveyor with decent beans and good WiFi.

Today, I am using my thumbs and my iPhone, sitting at gate 126 with 100 or so folks waiting at an almost-ungodly hour for our flight.

Not that I mind (much), given the ultimate destination of today’s adventures in air travel: Saint Louis, the site of this year’s PC(USA) General Assembly.

Presbyterians and others who will serve as commissioners, advisory delegates, staff and support – and more than a few folks who are just there to observe- are doing the same travel dance all across the country.

Why? Because this is how we church. This is how we find, in our imperfect but faithful way, the next steps for our denomination. We gather to make decisions on the issues facing the church in today’s world. So we meet in committees, we pray, we talk, we worship, we argue a bit (or a lot), we pray some more, we gather as a whole, rinse, repeat… and eventually we vote.

All of that trusting that the Holy Spirit is in our midst, our words, our thoughts and our votes. That we can, when gathered as a body, hear God’s voice in the voices of one another.

I love that. In the same way I love watching leaders do this same hard beautiful work for a congregation or the presbytery. It is holy magic.

I also love these too rare chances to just hang out with the PresbyNerds I know from seminary, conferences and online communities. We are scattered all over most of the time… but for these handful of days, we assemble and reconnect. This, too, is holy magic.

At least a couple of times this week, I will post more, here or as a guest writer elsewhere (I’ll link back!). Meanwhile, prayers for safe travel, clear thinking, a loving heart, and at least a little rest would be much appreciated!

Adventures in Gooberdom

Some days, I feel like I have it pretty much together.  Some days, I know that is not but a delusion.   Some days, I am pretty sure I need a minder.  Yesterday was one.

Even 3 months in, I am learning about being a contact lens wearer. Like last week, I had my first experience of thinking my right lens had fallen out, only to discover that “eyelash” that was bothering me was actually the missing lens.  It had just crawled up into the corner of my eyelid and tucked itself annoyingly away.

Yesterday, though… totally user error.  I knew it was time to switch to the next pair, so I thought I’d pop in the old ones for a quick jog then wear my specs the rest of the day.

Did my run.
Took my shower.
Came downstairs and thought…
It’s bright enough outside I’ll want my shades. I’ll just swap out the contacts.

So, I popped out the old right one, popped in the new one, and blinked as it settled into place. Then I marveled, as I always do, at the magic of being able to see clearly again.

I popped out the right one, popped in the new one, and blinked.
And couldn’t see for crap.

So I pulled it back out, rinsed it, checked to make sure it wasn’t inside out, and popped it back in.   Nope. Still blurry.

Then I thought… that feels awfully thick.  Did I??? 
So, I again pulled out the new contact, and sure enough there was the old one, still on my eyeball.

Yep.  Some days…

I Want to See

This winter, the Narrative Lectionary took us through the story of Jesus’ ministry as told by John.  There are many ways that this particular gospel can be problematic, but even still… the writing style and imagery resonates deeply with the poet in me.

This time through, I was struck by the use of vision – clear, obscured, regained, and lacking – as a metaphor for faith.  I suspect not in some small part because I was literally struggling to see for several weeks.

I turned 40 while working full time as a communications specialist and doing seminary online.  That meant I spent most of my life staring at a screen or books or paper.  And it was the year I started doing that yo-yo thing with items covered in small print to find the “sweet spot” to let me read.  It was not a huge surprise my annual eye exam that year resulted in bifocals.

I’m used to the dance now, after 12 years of adjusting prescriptions and getting new frames as insurance allows… but this year, the timing went sideways.  I ordered a new set of specs, planning to use the current pair as the backup.  And within 48 hours the old pair broke.  Irreparably. And the only option in the house was 2 prescriptions old.

I could “see” well enough to drive safely and read in small stretches.  But I had nothing for sunglasses, which made running/biking even less comfortable and safe.  With a couple weeks wait left on the glasses, I thought to myself… maybe contacts and a pair of shades? One appointment later, I was attempting to train my eyes to see with 1 near and 1 far lens.

While the new glasses were on backorder, (way more than 2 weeks- a whole other story),  I went through 2 versions of contacts and loaner glasses, always slightly blurry… never quite right.  I could see the world, but it was never quite as it should be.  As I knew it could be.

I’ve had my new glasses for a week now.  I still can’t quite get past the fact that I can see effortlessly at every distance…  And my finalized contact lenses even make it possible for me to see clearly when I am in the shower or swimming (with goggles).

I know… there are many people for whom my options are impossible. Either their vision is beyond correction or their circumstances keep options like glasses and contacts out of reach.

Like them – even if temporarily – I longed to be made whole again in this one particular way.  I just wanted to see.  I’d have been more than happy to let some wandering rabbi take a stab at healing my astigmatism.

So much, though, of what John wanted us to see in those accounts was about that deeper seeing.  The kind of seeing that happens as we open our hearts to an encounter with the God.

The kind of seeing which makes it impossible to look at the world the same way as before.

The kind of seeing that cuts right through the layers of bullshit and fakery the world encourages us to wear to the very core of the person, to the childlike heart of the person.

The kind of seeing that allows us to know and be known, by the one who knew us first and loves us best.  And the ones who love us here and now.

I can see now, and for that I give thanks.   But Lord, I still want to see.

An Invocation for a New Mayor & Commissioners

Today, I had the honor of opening with prayer the ceremony at which the newly-elected mayor and city council members were sworn in.  I can’t say that before this invitation I had given much thought to what one might pray for on such an occasion.  But as I thought about the work they have in front of them and the demands that would be placed on them… here’s what God laid on my heart.  And thus what folks heard me pray this afternoon:

Holy and gracious One, we give you thanks for a moment to pause and reflect on what is a really momentous day.

Looking back, we can see the many ways you have prepared these leaders to answer a call to this work in this city in this moment.  We give you our thanks. 

As we pause, we can begin to see how their work will intersect and weave into the work of all the men and women who have come before, and for all of their efforts and passion, we also give thanks.  

And on this day of official new beginnings, we look forward to the ways you will lead and guide commissioners Smith and Nolan, Bankson and Becker, as well mayor Nelson 

Answering a call to public service, putting your family’s name and reputation out for a vote, braving the fickleness and divisiveness of public discussion of your work…  these things are not easy.  For our leaders or their families.   

We ask then, for you to fill them with the humility, courage, faithfulness, persistence and sense of humor they will desperately need in the days, months and years to come. 

Be with the family members of our commissioners and mayor, as this work means missed mealtimes or ballgames, interrupted and delayed vacations, and errands that take forever between conversations.  

May these leaders never take themselves too seriously; may they never take the work home too consistently, and may they never take the word on the street too personally.  

Instead, give them ears to hear the stories that get to the truth of the needs of our city, and the excitement of the opportunities that the people of Apopka are exploring. 

Give them eyes to see the little things that make the biggest differences in peoples lives, and to look past the distractions that make real progress impossible. 

Give each of them minds that are sharp and eager to learn from one another, as well as the wise counsel you provide in their colleagues, staff and support teams, city employees and outside experts.  

Lord, give them hearts that are full of compassion for those whose voices have too long been silenced and whose access to power has been limited.   

We pray this day for all who work to make Apopka the kind of place you want to raise your kids, open a business, visit for a festival or maybe even retire to.  And we lift up all who live and work in the bounds of the city.

It goes without saying that aligning all the wants, needs, expectations, hopes, and dreams of those who voted to bring this group together…. is nigh unto impossible.   Mixing in the reality of time and budgets and process… it would be more than one miracle to make everyone happy.  

Rather than ask for that particular miracle, God, I offer up a simpler request…

May grace abound from above and below
May grace abound from within and without
May grace abound from this moment onward
In ways that offer healing, reconciliation, inclusion, empowerment and unity.

May our mayor and commissioners remember always that
it is in your children coming together and working to make the world and its people whole that the desires of your heart and the truth of your glory are revealed.  

May that be true of this council, of this city and all who call on your name, this day and always, Amen.