Now Go!

Continue to look back

and you will miss what is in front of you.

Don’t forget where you came from.

Don’t forget what it took to leave there.

You are going toward something you could not have where you were.

See what you were created to see.

There is hope in the steps that move you forward.

Take with you all that feeds that hope.

Leave behind anything that would kill your beautiful spirit.

You will need courage.

Draw from Sources where courage is found.

Share that with others as you go; they have some place to go, too.

You have been given what you need.

Know that truth.

Do not give credence to the voices that tell you otherwise.

They do not know you.

They never will.

You are ready.

Now go!

 

I wish you peace in the journey…

Sisters and Brothers–It’s Time to Say, “Enough!”

I am a woman. I like being a woman.  And, I love who God created me to be.

As a woman, who happens to be called to ministry, I have found myself listening to, reading about, and watching with great interest the events in recent days of those who have come forward to speak of their disturbing experiences with a very powerful man in the entertainment business.

My interest in this has nothing to do with whether or not the entertainment industry is rocked by this scandal or what it means for their bottom line.  I honestly don’t care about that at all.

What I do care about is how we treat each other as human beings. And, the news that’s come our way in these past days of the sexual exploitation and abuse that women in that industry have been subjected to by this man and by others because they were in a position of power to do what they did has left me with several thoughts.

The first was that if this particular story is what it takes to be the tipping point for women and men to be able to stand up against those who use their money and power to exploit, abuse, and mistreat women then so be it.  I pray that this will be not just a wake-up call for those who say they had no knowledge of such goings on, but that it will finally be the story that once and for all sends a message that this kind of behavior is unacceptable, that there will be consequences, and that it needs to stop.  Now.

I pray that people will finally, finally look at what happened to women who are in an industry where careers are influenced, impacted, and interrupted by those who would use sex as a weapon to promote them or destroy them.  I realize this isn’t anything new and in some ways it’s not even news but rather the next chapter in a very ugly, sordid, and sickening story.

However, my hope is that we will finally, finally broaden the focus to see that what we have been seeing play out in Hollywood is not limited to just those folks in that industry.  This has happened to women in every work situation for far too long.  And, what’s more reprehensible than knowing that it has happened is also knowing that it is still happening.  And, that means that my daughter and her friends and all our daughters are more likely than not to experience something that will remind them that because they are females there are others who think less of them and will treat them as something lesser than.

Speaking as a mother and not to put too fine of a point on it, but this is bullshit.  I know…I’m a minister and I’m not supposed to say stuff like that. But, sometimes you gotta use the word that applies. I believe that one does.

I pray that finally, finally we will look at all women in every workplace and see them as people who deserve respect and deserve to be treated honestly, fairly, and justly on every level.  Actually, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we just treated everyone—everyone—with dignity and respect simply and just because they/we are human beings and children of God who deserve that?

It is predictable that women who speak up and speak out about their experiences will be subjected to another kind of abuse that may be more egregious and harmful than what they are coming forward with. They will be tried in the court of public opinion and convicted as the criminal for daring to speak their truth.  We’ve seen this happen over and over again and it’s no wonder that more women have kept these stories and experiences to themselves. Why would anyone want to subject themselves to that kind of horror more than once?

Speaking out against any kind of injustice takes tremendous courage.  But, we should not be quick to judge people, especially those who are in positions of little or no power, when they don’t come forward.  Sometimes people don’t speak up for themselves because they are trying to protect themselves and others from further harm.  And, as a woman who’s had to choose when or when not to hold my tongue, I can assure you that’s not an easy choice, but it is often a necessary choice.

Most women I know who have experienced these kinds of offenses choose not to share it publicly because we know the costs of doing that.  And, yes, we also know the costs of our silence.  We often share our stories with each other but mostly assume that sharing them with our male colleagues will fall on deaf ears, or they’ll be heard as whining or complaining.  And, as we’re trying to make our way in our chosen careers, vocations and callings, the last thing we want to do is jeopardize the chances we have to get promotions or raises because we dared to name that there was this gigantic, monster in the room—It-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named (to borrow and slightly modify from the Harry Potter books).

Friends, we need to not only be able to call this name, but we need to confront it and take out this monstrous injustice once and for all.  And, right now, we sisters could really use some support from our brothers instead of the silence and dismissals and the unbelief we’re used to.

Brothers, your sisters–your moms and daughters and wives–have been doing much of the heavy lifting on this one.  So, unless it’s okay with you and you don’t mind that the women and girls in your life are being subjected to this kind of crap, then I would respectfully suggest you get off your butts and stand up for them/us and with us and be very clear with every guy you know that this kind of behavior will no longer be tolerated and ignored.

And, one more thing…

To say love is the answer may sound simplistic and cliché.  But, I don’t think it’s either. If we loved each other the way we are called to then we wouldn’t be having these conversations.  This would never be an issue if we treated all people with love and care.

So, imagine what the world looks like when love wins.  And, let’s walk in that direction.

I wish you peace.

It Matters

If the church wants to be true to its calling to be the body of Christ, then it needs to make sure it’s truly committed to being a people who are honest, authentic, courageous, welcoming, compassionate, loving and extravagantly committed to caring for children. The following were words from my sermon on Children’s Sabbath. My hope is that they call us to a renewed focus on being people who love children in extravagant and extraordinary ways. Imagine how very different our world might be if we did.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

I can never hear that saying without thinking of Festus Hagan.  Now, for those of us of a certain age, if you hear the name Festus Hagan, you know he was Marshall Matt Dillon’s faithful deputy on the long-running radio and then television series “Gunsmoke.”  My family never missed Gunsmoke.

Festus was a sometimes ornery, but mostly good-natured fellow. He was rough around the edges, he didn’t have a formal education, he was not very refined, but he had a heart of gold.  And, he had great stories, mostly of the Hagan clan—his family.

When I was growing up I had an album that Ken Curtis, the man who played Festus, had recorded.  It was truly funny. And, one of the things I remember from that album was a variation on, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

The Festus Hagan version of it goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but before you do, just remember how a wet horse smells.”  (And, it still makes me laugh when I say it.)

Both of those sayings were things I learned as a child.  Both of them have stuck with me.  And, if you think about it, both of them have wisdom, in their own right.

When I do children’s sermons on Sunday mornings in worship, I have said to the children on more than one occasion that what we do matters.  What we say matters.  And, what we don’t do or don’t say also matters. It matters what children learn.  It matters where they learn it. And, it matters who teaches them.

The book of Proverbs reminds us of the importance of knowledge, instruction, and wisdom. And, as it was in the ancient world, and as it is for many people today, these writings were designed to give us a frame of reference for interpreting and understanding the events of life.

Sages and teachers over the years believed that God reveals God’s self through our experiences and dilemmas in life, and through our humanity.  And, in a very immediate way, wisdom itself is one of the ways of knowing God.

Proverbs is one of the texts of wisdom literature in the Old Testament. One of the key phrases in Proverbs is “Fear of the Lord.”  It is a phrase also found in the earlier writings of Deuteronomy.  In Deuteronomy, we find some parallel phrases, like “walking in his ways,” and “serving the Lord with all your heart and soul.

But, Proverbs was written a bit differently than Deuteronomy in that the direct references to God—to Yahweh—are mostly absent.  The writer of Proverbs focused on other ways of being in relationship with God and God being in relationship with God’s people.

Primarily the focus is on gaining wisdom, which translates into and is interwoven with respecting and obeying God.

In Deuteronomy and Proverbs, the authors would have connected the concept of “fear of the Lord” with how we live—our lifestyle—our morality.  And, it would have been voiced out of concern for self and out of concern for society. The Proverbs and other wisdom literature were offered as a means of helping us understand what it means for human society to live in harmony—to place value on the need for discovery, understanding, and cooperation.

Proverbs 4:7  pulls this together for us and the King James Version, says it a bit more poetically:  “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”

It seemed to me that on this Sunday that we are celebrating as Children’s Sabbath, it might be a good idea to consider our role in teaching wisdom.  And, it might be a good thing for us to take some time and think about what we’re doing to teach the word of God and the ways of God to our children.

I want to do that because it matters!

I believe that THE most important thing we ever do for our children—for all children–is to teach them about the unending and amazing love that God has for them (that God has for all of us) as it is conveyed to us through scripture and as it was formed in us even before we were born.

The foundation of faith that we help our children build from the time we have an inkling of an idea that they will be born into this world until they are grown is essential.  Nothing else that we do will sustain our children throughout their lives in the ways that their foundation of faith will.

My daughter Elizabeth is a senior in high school this year.  We have begun the process of visiting college campuses, and she is filling out applications, taking ACT and SAT tests (numerous times) and making sure all her course work will be complete come next June.  Her father and I have been looking for a while now at scholarships and financial aid and getting into the serious discussions of how we will pay for her to go to college.

We have had as many discussions as she will allow about what she might major in and what career path she might take.  She’s informed us recently that she’s really tired of talking about that right now—and I completely get that.  She’s 17.  That we or anyone else should expect her or any other 17 year old to know what she wants to major in and what she wants to do for the rest of her life is completely absurd.

But, I can tell you that as important as all of those things are to her father and me, what I’m most concerned about is whether or not we have been parents who have done all we could to prepare her and our son James (who will be at this same place in a couple of years) to go out and live in this world?  Have we helped them to build a foundation that is firm enough and strong enough to sustain them when they’re faced with making decisions—both the big, life-changing ones, and the ones that matter in day-to-day life?  Have we modeled for them what it means to be good, kind, compassionate, caring people?  Have they been given a foundation of faith by us (and by those who have been part of their lives) that will help them weather the storms they will certainly encounter?  Do they have what they need to withstand the difficult tests that the world will no doubt put before them?

I have known from the moment I knew I was pregnant that the most important thing I would ever do as a mother would be to raise my children to be people who knew that while I was their mother, they were first and foremost a child of God. And, because they are, my responsibility to them was to make sure that they were taught foundational things that they could call on anytime they wanted or needed for as long as they lived.  Those foundational things would be the words and stories of the Bible and of faith.  They would be words given by a loving God that would be written on their hearts—words that would forever assure them that they are a child of God, that God takes great delight in them, and that God has given them everything they need to live the life that God has called them to live.

And, one of the ways this happened was by making sure that our children had not just parents who were committed to this, but also by making sure that they were part of a family of faith, a community of Christ, who would commit to walking this journey with us.  It is part of our responsibility to teach our kids.  And, I understood early on that responsibility included taking them to a church that would support us and be committed to that teaching, too.

Ask and parent raising kids today and they will likely tell you that in today’s culture, we need back-up. We need our church to help us take care of our children.  We need our church to help us teach our children.  We need our church to love us and encourage us to be here and be part of life here.  We need our church to remind us when we are bone tired and stressed out by everyday life why it matters that we are here on a regular basis.  Parents need a community of faith that will welcome and embrace and care for us and our children because raising a child in 21st century America is exhausting and sometimes it wears us out.

I know every generation has its challenges in raising children.  I was born when parents were worried about sending their sons to Viet Nam and we were in the middle of a Cold War with the Soviet Union.  My parents were born when their fathers were being sent off to fight in Europe and the Pacific in World War II.  My grandparents grew up and came of age during the Depression.   Parents now also face the challenges of a world that is pretty divisive and has its own wars and economic issues to face.  And, we’re wondering how in the world we’re going to raise our kids well.  We need the strength and love and presence of our families of faith.  We need them more than ever.

When our children are baptized as infants here, we speak words of commitment to those children, promising that we will be present for them, teach them, nurture, them and help them grow in their faith.

When our children receive Bibles from their church, we promise to help them continue in their growth and to teach them what’s in that Bible and why those words are not just ancient words on a page—they are living words that have meaning and relevance right here, right now.

When our children are confirmed in that faith we promise them that we will continue to teach them and stay with them on their journey of faith, because confirmation is not the destination—it’s another step on that journey.

We’ve made promises to these children.  And, we need to make sure on a regular basis that we are keeping our promises to these children.

Because, you know, if we can’t keep those promises to our children, then why should they trust us with anything?  That’s a pretty strong statement to make, I know.

But, we have study after study and book after book that document in excruciating detail how many times the church (and I’m speaking of the larger body of he church) has failed to keep its promises to its children—children of all ages.  There’s been some serious wounding of people who lost their faith because of the words and deeds of churches who failed to take care of children because they failed/we failed to keep our promises.  And, sadly, many have decided that if the church, which is supposed to be a reflection of God, isn’t keeping its promises, then why should they trust God either.  When that happens, it takes a long time for that trust to be restored…and sometimes, it’s just gone and nothing we will ever do will fix that.

I am saying this because I believe that in today’s world, churches better be willing to be families of faith that pay extraordinary attention to the care and nurturing of our children.  If we do not care for them, if we do not keep our promises to them, if we do not feed them words that nourish their souls and give them a real chance to thrive and grow into the people God created them to be, then we have failed them.  And, I promise you that if we don’t give them our best efforts at giving them the Good News of Jesus Christ, the world is more than ready and willing and capable of feeding them the worst kind of junk food that can be consumed.  And, it’s the kind of stuff that will kill body, mind and spirit.

The writings in Proverbs are reminders for us to take very seriously the raising of our children. As parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles—as teachers and leaders and people of God—it is part of our vocation to teach our children the Good News, the life-giving word of God, that’s been given to us.

Friends, it is part of our calling to help each other continue to grow in our faith and to live our faith and abundantly share the love of God with each other every single day.

Our challenge as a church in these days ahead is not a new one, but it bears repeating and it may be that we are at a crossroads where we need to renew our commitment—a commitment to be a community of faith that is honest, authentic, courageous, welcoming, compassionate, and loving.

Our challenge is to be a church that extravagantly cares for our children and families and for each other, one that longs to share the knowledge and wisdom of our years, and joyfully encourages one another to be who God created us to be.

And, our challenge is for each of us to go out of these doors every week and share the good news of the grace of God, the love of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit with everyone who needs it.

Because you know what—it really does matter.

I wish you peace…

It Matters

If the church wants to be true to its calling to be the body of Christ, then it needs to make sure it’s truly committed to being a people who are honest, authentic, courageous, welcoming, compassionate, loving and extravagantly committed to caring for children. The following were words from my sermon on Children’s Sabbath. My hope is that they call us to a renewed focus on being people who love children in extravagant and extraordinary ways. Imagine how very different our world might be if we did.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

I can never hear that saying without thinking of Festus Hagan.  Now, for those of us of a certain age, if you hear the name Festus Hagan, you know he was Marshall Matt Dillon’s faithful deputy on the long-running radio and then television series “Gunsmoke.”  My family never missed Gunsmoke.

Festus was a sometimes ornery, but mostly good-natured fellow. He was rough around the edges, he didn’t have a formal education, he was not very refined, but he had a heart of gold.  And, he had great stories, mostly of the Hagan clan—his family.

When I was growing up I had an album that Ken Curtis, the man who played Festus, had recorded.  It was truly funny. And, one of the things I remember from that album was a variation on, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

The Festus Hagan version of it goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but before you do, just remember how a wet horse smells.”  (And, it still makes me laugh when I say it.)

Both of those sayings were things I learned as a child.  Both of them have stuck with me.  And, if you think about it, both of them have wisdom, in their own right.

When I do children’s sermons on Sunday mornings in worship, I have said to the children on more than one occasion that what we do matters.  What we say matters.  And, what we don’t do or don’t say also matters. It matters what children learn.  It matters where they learn it. And, it matters who teaches them.

The book of Proverbs reminds us of the importance of knowledge, instruction, and wisdom. And, as it was in the ancient world, and as it is for many people today, these writings were designed to give us a frame of reference for interpreting and understanding the events of life.

Sages and teachers over the years believed that God reveals God’s self through our experiences and dilemmas in life, and through our humanity.  And, in a very immediate way, wisdom itself is one of the ways of knowing God.

Proverbs is one of the texts of wisdom literature in the Old Testament. One of the key phrases in Proverbs is “Fear of the Lord.”  It is a phrase also found in the earlier writings of Deuteronomy.  In Deuteronomy, we find some parallel phrases, like “walking in his ways,” and “serving the Lord with all your heart and soul.

But, Proverbs was written a bit differently than Deuteronomy in that the direct references to God—to Yahweh—are mostly absent.  The writer of Proverbs focused on other ways of being in relationship with God and God being in relationship with God’s people.

Primarily the focus is on gaining wisdom, which translates into and is interwoven with respecting and obeying God.

In Deuteronomy and Proverbs, the authors would have connected the concept of “fear of the Lord” with how we live—our lifestyle—our morality.  And, it would have been voiced out of concern for self and out of concern for society. The Proverbs and other wisdom literature were offered as a means of helping us understand what it means for human society to live in harmony—to place value on the need for discovery, understanding, and cooperation.

Proverbs 4:7  pulls this together for us and the King James Version, says it a bit more poetically:  “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”

It seemed to me that on this Sunday that we are celebrating as Children’s Sabbath, it might be a good idea to consider our role in teaching wisdom.  And, it might be a good thing for us to take some time and think about what we’re doing to teach the word of God and the ways of God to our children.

I want to do that because it matters!

I believe that THE most important thing we ever do for our children—for all children–is to teach them about the unending and amazing love that God has for them (that God has for all of us) as it is conveyed to us through scripture and as it was formed in us even before we were born.

The foundation of faith that we help our children build from the time we have an inkling of an idea that they will be born into this world until they are grown is essential.  Nothing else that we do will sustain our children throughout their lives in the ways that their foundation of faith will.

My daughter Elizabeth is a senior in high school this year.  We have begun the process of visiting college campuses, and she is filling out applications, taking ACT and SAT tests (numerous times) and making sure all her course work will be complete come next June.  Her father and I have been looking for a while now at scholarships and financial aid and getting into the serious discussions of how we will pay for her to go to college.

We have had as many discussions as she will allow about what she might major in and what career path she might take.  She’s informed us recently that she’s really tired of talking about that right now—and I completely get that.  She’s 17.  That we or anyone else should expect her or any other 17 year old to know what she wants to major in and what she wants to do for the rest of her life is completely absurd.

But, I can tell you that as important as all of those things are to her father and me, what I’m most concerned about is whether or not we have been parents who have done all we could to prepare her and our son James (who will be at this same place in a couple of years) to go out and live in this world?  Have we helped them to build a foundation that is firm enough and strong enough to sustain them when they’re faced with making decisions—both the big, life-changing ones, and the ones that matter in day-to-day life?  Have we modeled for them what it means to be good, kind, compassionate, caring people?  Have they been given a foundation of faith by us (and by those who have been part of their lives) that will help them weather the storms they will certainly encounter?  Do they have what they need to withstand the difficult tests that the world will no doubt put before them?

I have known from the moment I knew I was pregnant that the most important thing I would ever do as a mother would be to raise my children to be people who knew that while I was their mother, they were first and foremost a child of God. And, because they are, my responsibility to them was to make sure that they were taught foundational things that they could call on anytime they wanted or needed for as long as they lived.  Those foundational things would be the words and stories of the Bible and of faith.  They would be words given by a loving God that would be written on their hearts—words that would forever assure them that they are a child of God, that God takes great delight in them, and that God has given them everything they need to live the life that God has called them to live.

And, one of the ways this happened was by making sure that our children had not just parents who were committed to this, but also by making sure that they were part of a family of faith, a community of Christ, who would commit to walking this journey with us.  It is part of our responsibility to teach our kids.  And, I understood early on that responsibility included taking them to a church that would support us and be committed to that teaching, too.

Ask and parent raising kids today and they will likely tell you that in today’s culture, we need back-up. We need our church to help us take care of our children.  We need our church to help us teach our children.  We need our church to love us and encourage us to be here and be part of life here.  We need our church to remind us when we are bone tired and stressed out by everyday life why it matters that we are here on a regular basis.  Parents need a community of faith that will welcome and embrace and care for us and our children because raising a child in 21st century America is exhausting and sometimes it wears us out.

I know every generation has its challenges in raising children.  I was born when parents were worried about sending their sons to Viet Nam and we were in the middle of a Cold War with the Soviet Union.  My parents were born when their fathers were being sent off to fight in Europe and the Pacific in World War II.  My grandparents grew up and came of age during the Depression.   Parents now also face the challenges of a world that is pretty divisive and has its own wars and economic issues to face.  And, we’re wondering how in the world we’re going to raise our kids well.  We need the strength and love and presence of our families of faith.  We need them more than ever.

When our children are baptized as infants here, we speak words of commitment to those children, promising that we will be present for them, teach them, nurture, them and help them grow in their faith.

When our children receive Bibles from their church, we promise to help them continue in their growth and to teach them what’s in that Bible and why those words are not just ancient words on a page—they are living words that have meaning and relevance right here, right now.

When our children are confirmed in that faith we promise them that we will continue to teach them and stay with them on their journey of faith, because confirmation is not the destination—it’s another step on that journey.

We’ve made promises to these children.  And, we need to make sure on a regular basis that we are keeping our promises to these children.

Because, you know, if we can’t keep those promises to our children, then why should they trust us with anything?  That’s a pretty strong statement to make, I know.

But, we have study after study and book after book that document in excruciating detail how many times the church (and I’m speaking of the larger body of he church) has failed to keep its promises to its children—children of all ages.  There’s been some serious wounding of people who lost their faith because of the words and deeds of churches who failed to take care of children because they failed/we failed to keep our promises.  And, sadly, many have decided that if the church, which is supposed to be a reflection of God, isn’t keeping its promises, then why should they trust God either.  When that happens, it takes a long time for that trust to be restored…and sometimes, it’s just gone and nothing we will ever do will fix that.

I am saying this because I believe that in today’s world, churches better be willing to be families of faith that pay extraordinary attention to the care and nurturing of our children.  If we do not care for them, if we do not keep our promises to them, if we do not feed them words that nourish their souls and give them a real chance to thrive and grow into the people God created them to be, then we have failed them.  And, I promise you that if we don’t give them our best efforts at giving them the Good News of Jesus Christ, the world is more than ready and willing and capable of feeding them the worst kind of junk food that can be consumed.  And, it’s the kind of stuff that will kill body, mind and spirit.

The writings in Proverbs are reminders for us to take very seriously the raising of our children. As parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles—as teachers and leaders and people of God—it is part of our vocation to teach our children the Good News, the life-giving word of God, that’s been given to us.

Friends, it is part of our calling to help each other continue to grow in our faith and to live our faith and abundantly share the love of God with each other every single day.

Our challenge as a church in these days ahead is not a new one, but it bears repeating and it may be that we are at a crossroads where we need to renew our commitment—a commitment to be a community of faith that is honest, authentic, courageous, welcoming, compassionate, and loving.

Our challenge is to be a church that extravagantly cares for our children and families and for each other, one that longs to share the knowledge and wisdom of our years, and joyfully encourages one another to be who God created us to be.

And, our challenge is for each of us to go out of these doors every week and share the good news of the grace of God, the love of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit with everyone who needs it.

Because you know what—it really does matter.

I wish you peace…

Granny’s Flowers

Today, I thought of the beauty of Granny’s Flowers and I’m most thankful for the memory of something so good.  And, I thought it might be good to share it with you. 

In recent days, we’ve witnessed some very heartbreaking events and heard some very ugly words.  I listened and watched and took these things in and they sat alongside some other things that were heartbreaking and hard on a very personal level.

But, today, I was reminded of something good.  It was something that took me back to a time and place that is long gone, yet never far away.  It was a place and time that no longer exists except in the minds and hearts of those who once lived or visited there.

The place was my Granny Rimel’s house; specifically, the flowers that surrounded and lived and grew in her house.

Today, I thought of the beauty of Granny’s Flowers and I’m most thankful for the memory of something so good.  And, I thought it might be good to share it with you.

I wish you peace…

Granny’s flowers were always prettier than anybody’s.  She could grow anything. Things liked growing for her.

She took good care of whatever she planted.  I think those little seeds thought she was their Mama and they wanted to grow up and be big and strong and lovely in all ways–just for her–just to see her smile.

Why did she care about planting things that were only to look at?

Maybe because Granny loved.  She loved pretty things.  She never had much money to buy pretty, so she made and grew her own sources of beauty.  Flowers don’t take much money–just time and love. She had plenty of love and she made the time.

Granny thought flowers made your house a home.  She loved her home and wanted it to be clean and nice.  She wanted folks to come visit.  Flowers would be one of her ways of welcoming those who did.

Food was another.  When you went to Granny’s home she would feed your body and senses until they were full and happy to be alive.

Being one of Granny’s flowers was a privilege.

Where Freedom Can Be Found

The following is a sermon I wrote for July 2, 2017.  I wrote it because I’ve been considering what it means to be free.  I’ve also wondered in recent years how it would be to have a message from the pulpit that offered a voice that didn’t seek to go to the extremes, but instead could find balance, and perhaps peace in the tension between church and state. The following is that attempt. Thank you for reading. I wish you peace.

The following is a sermon I wrote for July 2, 2017.  I wrote it because I’ve been considering what it means to be free.  I’ve also wondered in recent years how it would be to have a message from the pulpit that offered a voice that didn’t seek to go to the extremes of being politically correct or incorrect or to being pro or anti anything.  What would it be like to try to make an honest attempt to say something that acknowledges love of country, while also proclaiming that there is much more to us than just where we happen to have been born on this planet?

So, the following is that attempt.  If you’re thinking it’s long–well it is a sermon. But, hopefully it’s a message that calls us to consider the word “freedom” in ways that do not limit, but rather in ways that allow us to reach beyond to something more.

I wish you peace….

(The scripture for this sermon is Galatians 5:1, 13-16, 25)

 

Where Freedom Can Be Found  by Rev. Lynnette Sills

Every year since my children were little, we’ve spent Independence Day at Montreat.  The kids have been going to the Clubs day camp there since age 4 and on the 4th of July, Montreat holds a day full of festivities that are about as unpretentious as you can get.  And, amidst all the small-town festivities are two events that I have come to enjoy so much that I don’t want to miss them:  the July 4th Parade and the ceremony at the flag pole following the parade.

Now, if you go to the parade, don’t expect anything on the scale of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or a Tournament of Roses parade.  It is Montreat, after all. But, what you can expect are things that will make you smile.

Things like all the kids in the Clubs camp—they call themselves “Clubbies:”—who will be dressed up in costumes that have something to do with the theme of the parade.  One year when she was about 6 or 7, my daughter’s group dressed up like all the ingredients for s’mores—it was a camping/outdoor theme that year.  She was a Hershey’s chocolate bar.  She was the cutest little chocolate bar I’d ever seen, so I took a picture of her that day. Against her wishes.  She was not a happy chocolate bar.

Anyway, all the Clubbies march in the parade and wave at the folks lined up on the streets to cheer them on.  They are joined by The Scottish Society folks—the Presbyterians at Montreat are apparently really big on this—and they march along in their kilts representing the various clans.  There are, of course, bag pipes marching, too.  You can’t really have one without the other.  And, not to be outdone, there is a group of people who have Scotty dogs–some of the dogs are sporting tartans, which is pretty cute.

There are some summer residents who drive their antique cars in the parade. Generations of families pile into these cars, that are often decorated with red, white and blue bunting and American flags. They will be waving and smiling and usually tossing out candy to the kids as they go.

The Town of Black Mountain always has one of their fire trucks in the parade, too.  There’s a brass band that gets loaded into the back of someone’s pickup truck and they play as they ride along.

The last thing you will see in the parade are two people carrying a home-made display made of two boxes with the words “THE END” written on them.  That’s for anyone who might need a prompt to let them know that the parade is now over.

Immediately following the parade, everyone gathers at the flag pole and there is a ceremony led by a local Boy Scout Troop and the Clubbies.  The American flag is raised and the Star Spangled Banner is sung.  The Pledge of Allegiance is recited and songs like “My Country Tis of Thee” and “America, the Beautiful” will also be sung.  At the end, there will be a prayer and then folks are free to go and enjoy the other festivities of the day.

There have been times over the years when I’ve witnessed all these things and my heart has been full to bursting and my eyes have been filled to overflowing with tears.

I know that sounds a little corny and sappy.  And, I make no apologies for that. I can’t help that I’m that way.  And, I don’t want to, because, what those moments and memories represent for me are things that are important—time with my children, the joy of simple yet delightful events, a celebration of heritage, culture, and history and country.  There’s something very comforting in those moments—something that can offer a sense of belonging and a sense of connection with others.

In those times, in that place, I am thankful that I am an American.

But, what I am most thankful for on that day and on every other day that I get to draw breath is that I am so much more than that.

I am—we are–children of God.  We are God’s people.  And, many of us in this room today just happen to have been born here—on this part of the planet that over millions of years became part of something called America.  It hasn’t always been called that and someday it will no longer be known as that. But, for now, it’s where we happen to be and what we call this place.

Our history as a country and a people is messy. It’s imperfect. Our story is complicated and filled with triumphs and losses, hard fights and crushing defeats, justice and injustice, crime and punishment, incredible stupidity and amazing ingenuity, slavery and freedom, unthinkable poverty and excessive wealth.

Our history is full of stories that fill us with pride, and with tales that leave us in disgrace and shame. We have lifted people out of despair while simultaneously forcing others to live in the depths of it. We have been people who offered to educate one group while denying another the opportunity to learn.  We have kept people bound by rules and laws that denied many of their dignity and their freedom. And, we have been a people who fought for freedom and declared that we were endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights.

But, before we were any of these things, we first belonged to God.  And, we are still God’s people.

In our scripture this morning from Galatians, Chapter 5, Paul’s letter is one of a very personal nature.  What he wanted to convey to these early Christians was that it is faith in Jesus Christ that made them free. That message is still just as relevant and true for us, sitting here in this room this morning, and it is a message for everyone.

Like so many of the people in the early church, the people in this church in Galatia were trying to figure out what to do with those who had been taught to follow the Law of Moses and with those who no longer believed—or had never been taught at all.  They were trying to discern if the laws and rules and regulations had any meaning or relevance any longer.

What Paul says in this letter is that love, defined by Christ, puts the law into its correct perspective. And, he says in verse 14 that the law can be summed up in a single commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We aren’t told we are to do away with the Law of Moses.  Rather, Paul says that through love, we can fulfill the true intent and purpose of God’s laws.  They were given out of love and care.  They were not meant to enslave us.  Nor were these laws to be used so that we will be diminished or devalued or trapped by the things that would keep us from knowing a life that is truly free, a life that is fully lived.

Paul has a warning in his words.  And, this is one that I believe we might want to pay more attention to in our world right now.  Paul says in verse 13:

  1. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.

Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.”

We are called to freedom. But, to accept this gift is a choice.  We don’t have to take it.  But, when we don’t we live as slaves to the world and the things that would keep us from being who God intends us to be.

We must remember, however, that this freedom that is offered to us is not ours to misuse.  Part of the responsibility in accepting this gift is that we are to use this freedom wisely and with care. It is ours because it was given to us.  How are we going to use this gift?

How am I/How are you going to use this gift of freedom?  We have freedoms by virtue of being born in this part of the world that are not afforded to others in other countries.  How are we using those freedoms that are written into our laws, into our social constructs, and into our own personal lives?  And, how does our faith, our belief in the true freedom given to us in Christ, come into our thoughts and words and deeds on a daily basis?

Are you/ Am I living like a free person?  Are we living like a person who understands and takes seriously the responsibility of freedom and all that entails?

One of the things that has come clearly into focus for me in the past few years as an American, but more importantly as a child of God, is that my hope is not dependent on or found in the conventional institutions that we often rely on to call the shots, make the rules, set the tone, provide the leadership, and offer the solutions to the myriad issues, problems, and challenges we face in our world today.

Each of these, and anyone who accepts the call to leadership and to positions of power, have a responsibility to be instruments of and catalysts for freedom—to work with and for the well-being and care of others: to do for others what they cannot or may not be able to do for themselves.  And, as God’s people, we are called to lift each other up and encourage, care for each other, share our gifts for the good of others.

Each of us, if we choose freedom in Christ, are asked to step forward—to take up our cross and follow Christ.

And, Jesus told his disciple—told us—that we are to go and make disciples of others.  We are to tell others the Good News about Jesus Christ.  We are to be the ones who step forward, who take responsibility for the freedom we have been offered and to tell others what a difference that freedom makes in our lives.

I have watched the world through many lenses.  Through the innocent eyes of a child, the naive’ eyes of a teenager and college student, the hopeful eyes of a young adult, the eyes of one who lost her focus, through the eyes of a mother, and for all my years through the eyes of a female.   But, what most influences the way I see the world and the way things play out in it these days is through the eyes of a grown woman who is a follower of Christ.  My journey—in life and in faith—has me traveling on a different path these days.  It is a journey that longs to see beyond some of the ugly things that try to pass for truth in our world today.

Where do we find truth?  Where do we find freedom?   We have to look toward the only things that ever really have a chance to make change happen and can allow for abundant growth.  Those are the things Jesus told us to do: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind soul, and strength.  And, love your neighbor as yourself.

We can spend all our time worrying about the latest tweet or post of social media offering, the latest press conference, the latest opinion poll, the latest stock market report, the latest insult, the latest scandal, or the latest rumor.  We can wring our hands and wail and gnash teeth till the cows come home.  And, that will change absolutely nothing.

Find better ground.  For whatever you want to see happening in the world that makes things better for others or for you, go there and tend to what needs doing.  Give the gifts you’ve been given to something of substance, to something that really matters. And, don’t wait for someone else to fix it.  It just might be that you or I are the “someone else” who can.

I believe that every single person in this room has it within themselves to turn things around.  I believe that as God’s people, with God’s guidance, we have within us everything that we need to walk out of these doors today and share something with this world that it desperately needs—and that is love.

Friends, don’t take that lightly and don’t sell it short, because there is nothing more powerful than love.

Love is the one thing that can overcome evil, hate, and fear.  Love never fails and it never dies. 

And, what Paul was telling the Galatians was–don’t you use your freedom stupidly.  Don’t use it to hurt others.  Don’t use it for your own gain.  Don’t you dare misuse this gift!

Paul is saying to that church and, it’s the message for the church today, that the good news we have is that Christ came to free us.  When we are caught up and trapped by the things that would hold us down and keep us from being fully alive and fully God’s, hear the Good News of Christ.

When we are faced with the immoral and the unjust, the unkind and unfair, the prideful and the preposterous, the false and the ungodly, trust in God and know the freedom that comes in being a child of God.

To take up our cross and follow Jesus means that our passion becomes one focused on God and the kingdom of God.  Let us accept that call and accept the gift of freedom that Christ offers us.  And, as children of God and as a community of Christ, let us be an instrument of transformation that God uses and will continue to use in this place.

Amen.