Monday, October 26, 2015

My brother or sister or mother.

Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  Matthew 12:48b-50

I know that Jesus was not rejecting his family with this statement.  At the same time, I do believe that he was offering hope to those who are alone.  When family systems break down, regardless of the reason, God provides an alternative for us.  There are people in this world who find their hearts going out to those who have been abandoned.  These are the people that God has called to be family to those around them.

One of the greatest gifts I have learned in this life, is that I don't have to do it all myself.  But I do have to remain open to God's call to reach out at those times when I am the tool God chooses to use in a given situation.  I have to recognize those times when I can be mother, or sister, or friend to the person God places in my presence.  God, who would you have me reach out to today?

** The Rev, Dr, Rhoda Swanner Montgomery, rector of St Thomas in College Station died yesterday. May the Lord bring her into the greater family of his presence as he comforts those left behind.  Rhoda was a year behind me in seminary.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Our churches reflect us, and hopefully, Christ

Jesus said, "How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  Matthew 12:34b-37

Jesus was talking to the scribes and pharisees who were looking for reasons to denounce him and had accused him of casting out demons by means of Beelzebul. Our churches today are sometimes faced with this same kind of vindictiveness.  I remember the first vestry meeting I ever attended as an ordained person: I sat in wonder at how a person who had listened to the gospel that morning could utter the things that came out of her mouth - totally contrary to the message of our Saviour.  What was she thinking?  She was so into her own agenda that she totally forgot we were a church that claims to follow the teachings of Christ.  Our churches should always reflect, not us, but the Christ we follow.

When problems arise in our churches today, are we part of the solution?  Or do we contribute to the problem?  Some day we will all stand before God and we will have to give an accounting of our actions.  Are mine always good and right?  No. I can get as incensed as any one else at the injustice I see. I often have to remind myself that Jesus is my model.  I try to remember that he is my savior, and not I myself.  And I try to remember that Jesus calls me to try to work with those whom I disagree with so that in the end, His glory will be seen by all.  He calls us all to that kind of examination of conscience: that the things we do reflect His place in our lives.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Adopted by God

All my life, I have felt like I was being judged against some plumb line and found wanting.  And just like Amos, God took me from teaching and set me a task to minister to his people.  Even then I have looked back to that plumb line wondering if I measure up.

But glory of glories, in our Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul says, “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of his will.”  And I know what that means!
I have been on a journey since Christmas.  A journey of discovery, to find my family of origin.  All my life I have cared nothing about history.  If you mentioned history to me, my mind shut down, didn’t want to go there.  It held nothing for me, didn’t exist for me.  I was adopted when I was 11 days old.  That is the day history began.
So I have a basis for understanding what Paul is talking about when he talks about “adoption as children of God.”  I was adopted into a new family and loved and cared for as if I was their own.  It wasn’t until after Mom died, that God plainly told me that He was my father and called me into his household.  He also told me if I wanted to know about my family to read the Bible.  It was only then that history began to be important to me – and then only Biblical history.
Over the last 30 years, I have grieved the loss of the mother who gave birth and who gave me away.  I went through various stages of grief: anger, guilt, depression and finally acceptance as I acknowledged the calling God had placed on my life.  It is only recently that God has placed a longing in my heart to find closure, and I began my search not knowing if my birth mother was alive or dead. 
Over the past two months, as I petitioned the court to unseal my records and as I searched through the DNA matches, my thirst for history – my history – came alive.  Knowing my mother’s name was Lillie, and finding a positive DNA match for an uncle, I was able to identify my mother and track my family history back several generations.
Using the information gathered through and internet searches, Sam and I left Thursday to search for my mother.  We came up dry on Thursday – no luck at all.  So we went to Palestine and spent the night with some old friends.  We visited and laughed and prayed and enjoyed the fellowship and support and encouragement we found there.
We went back on Friday to begin our search anew.  This is when all my skills learned through teaching math and being a police officer and pastoral care all came together.
I had already decided that my mother must be in a nursing home somewhere.  The first place we visited gave me a clue – we went to a nursing home in a different town and that is where we found her.  I was trembling as the nurse took me back to where “Miss Lillie” was having lunch with a friend.  The moment I saw her, I had no doubt that she was my mother.  I visited with her for about 10 minutes.  I doubt that she would remember it the next day, but it was monumental for me.  To be able to gaze at her and say, “This is my mother” was simply amazing.  This was a gift from God
As adult beings, we are formed by more than our DNA and our environment.  We are also formed by the love God pours out on us and our response to that love.  Here in this letter to the Ephesians we are reminded that we have been adopted into the family of God.  We are reminded that Jesus Christ died to redeem our sins.  Wisdom and insight are given that we might know the depths of his love.

Sometimes we are fighting issues involving physical, emotional or spiritual pain, or disabilities, or inadequacies. Sometimes it is hard to remember that God has a plan, and that plan includes us.  Sometimes it is hard to wait for the fullness of time in God’s plan.  We want to bull right ahead and force issues instead of waiting for God’s timing and God’s plan. Just like this search for my mother…  I had considered doing a DNA test, but just never seemed to get around to ordering the kit – the time wasn’t right, or maybe I didn’t want to open up that Pandora’s box – but then I was given a DNA test kit as a Christmas present from my son and daughter-in-law – and it was God’s timing.

Our lesson says, “when you have heard the word of truth. . .”  The word of truth as I visited with my mother was that this woman had given me birth, and then unselfishly given me up, so that I might be adopted into a particular family to grow up in the knowledge and love of God as demonstrated through that adoptive family.  The environment I grew up in and the church family I called home were instrumental in bringing me to where I am today.  

Our Psalm today begins, “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him. . .  Mercy and truth have met together.”  After the turmoil that has resided in my heart at times through the years, when truth was found, there was mercy also.  In the fullness of time, God has brought it together for me and I have seen his glory in the face of one who had the courage to bear a child and give her over to the Lord’s loving care.

I have believed in Jesus Christ and been sealed by the Holy Spirit and that’s all it takes.  God has a plan and a path for each of us to travel.  This is the pledge God gives us – we are redeemed by his blood, forgiven our sins, and adopted as full members of Christ’s body, co-heirs with Christ of the kingdom of heaven.

How compelling a message for a whole generation of children who have been "cut loose" by parents through adoption or divorce or misfortune, or simply those who have sprouted their wings and flown away! How amazing to remind ourselves that no matter what our family system may be, we are not alone – never alone, but have been adopted as precious children of the Creator of the universe, our gracious heavenly Father!   Amen

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lifted Up

From today's reading:  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  John 3:15

I'm sure the disciples were asking, "What is he talking about?"  All the way through - He gave his disciples hints about what was going to happen.  But things were going so well and they didn't want to think about any unpleasantness.  

On top of Mount Nebo in Jordan, is a cross made of a serpent on a pole remembering what Moses did in the desert:   "So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live."  Numbers 21:9

In the case of Moses - looking at the serpent on the pole was the cure for those bitten by serpents - they would look upon it and be saved.  In the same way, Jesus is the cure for our sinfulness - anyone looking upon the image of Jesus lifted up on the cross and believing in him will be saved.  As Jesus said to the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise."  Jesus says that to each of us -  
Like Nicodemus, many of us initially come to Jesus at night - when the world seems darkest, Jesus is the one who can shine light into our darkness - and Jesus is the one who can see us through that darkness and bring us out into the light.  He bids each of us to come - see him and trust him and know that he watches over us.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jesus Calls Us

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.". Mark 1:14-15

Using the words of Jesus, Mark asked his readers to believe Four impossible things. 

Number one - Jesus Christ was the Son of God.  Mark claims that the divine creator of the universe came down from heaven, took human form, and dwelt among us – touching the world in a totally new and profound way.   That Jesus Christ lived, not only 2000 years ago, but he also lives today.

Number two -  He asks you to believe that the time has come – Not a particular day or minute or year – but God’s time – Kairos.  The Kingdom of God is at hand – not in some far distant future – but here, now, on earth, all around us.  And the kingdom of God is found manifest in every person who, for the sake of God, feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, shelters the homeless, visits those who are sick or in prison and comforts those who mourn. 

Number Three   You have to believe is that Jesus is calling you to follow him – in whatever capacity is right for you.  Yes, you have to believe that Jesus wants you – regardless of who you are or what you have done.  He calls each and every one of us, both individually and collectively.  He has chosen each of us:

Number Four - Mark calls you to believe is that if you follow Jesus, you can make a difference in this Kingdom of God on earth.  He asks you to believe, that regardless of who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done…  Regardless of how smart you are or what skills you do or don’t possess, God can and will use you to make a difference to and in the world. 

Are you ready to take up this journey into the unique adventures that God has in store for you?  I say, "Lord, bring it on!"

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

They have no wine

The steward called the bridegroom and said, "Everyone serves the good wine first... but you have kept the good wine until now..."  Jesus did this, his first sign in Cana of Galilee.  John 2:9-11

I love this reading.  I connect with it on a number of levels, but one thing stood out this morning when I read the passage.  Jesus never did anything half-way.  He didn't make just a little wine, but had six stone jars filled - each holding 20 to 30 gallons.  That's a lot of wine - 120-180 gallons of wine,   This party could go on for days.  The other thing was the quality of the wine - it wasn't just wine, it was very good wine.  The steward was appalled that it had been saved for last when people were drunk and couldn't appreciate it.  Jesus shows an extravagance in providing for this couple whose party was about to come to an abrupt end.

Likewise our God is an extravagant God who delights in his creation and in those whom he has made.  He delights in providing for his children and in showing them mercy.  I occasionally thank God for a parking space or a green light and I remember a seminary professor who did not believe in "the God of the parking space."  I don't want to belittle God, or make us seem like puppets where every action is controlled by God.  That's not the way life is.  But occasionally, when something breaks your way, it doesn't hurt to remember that if God clothes the birds of the air (Luke 12:24), then He cares about the details of your life, too. 

Most loving Father, I give you thanks for the small ways you enter into my life.  Help me remember your loving presence in those times when life is tough, when things don't always go right.  The pat on the shoulder, the green light, the sudden awareness of time or place are daily reminders of your love.  Grant us the grace to be a blessing to others so that they, too, may become aware of Your presence in their life.  Amen.   

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Epiphany - Wise men seek Him

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, ,"  Matthew 2:1-2

Magi - wise men - astronomers - who were these men who came from the East?  And why did they care about this baby born in Judea?  Mystery surrounds this little tidbit of Jesus' life that appears only in the gospel of Matthew.  We don't even know how many there were, scripture doesn't say., only that there were three gifts given.

There is a reason for the saying, "wise men seek him, fools fear him."  And that might be the point of this passage of the gospel.  We are wise when we go out of our way to seek Jesus - for He is the one who can bring peace to our soul, and true meaning to our life.

Because God chose for Jesus to live life as a common man, He understands the trials and tribulations of the common person, the struggles we face every day.  Because Jesus lived as one of us, we can take our problems to Him and He will understand.

The Magi recognized that this child was special and they went out of their way to find him.  We are also called to go out of our way to find Jesus.  In one of my favorite cartoons, Family Circus, Billy is praying in church, he has his eyes closed and is picturing God on his majestic throne in heaven.  The next panel shows Billy kneeling at his bedside picturing Jesus as a baby in the manger, and Billy says, "It's a lot easier to pray to Baby Jesus that to God."  It is okay to see Jesus in whatever form is easiest for us to relate to; for me it's the teacher with dusty feet walking the road, touching the people and listening.

Lord Jesus come, fill our hearts and listen to our ramblings, for you are the one who cares.  Amen.