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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.

Stories with Heart and Soul

If we can find the stories with heart and soul, then I believe we’ve found something worth hearing. And, they are treasures worth keeping.

There was a movie that came out several years ago called The Straight Story.  It’s based on the true story of a man named Alvin Straight who traveled from his home in Iowa to Wisconsin to see his brother.  On the surface, that’s not much of a story. But, there were a couple of things that made this story worth telling and worth hearing.

You see, Alvin and his brother hadn’t spoken to each other in several years.  They’d fought about something and as a result they refused to be in contact.  But, when Alvin received word that his brother, his only sibling,  had fallen ill and been in the hospital, Alvin decided he should go to see his brother.

Seems simple enough:  except it wasn’t. (No one makes movies about simple things.  They don’t sell tickets.) Alvin hadn’t lived an easy life.  His time in the service, the anger and fear he brought home from the battlefields, the alcohol that gave him some relief from the pain, and stubborn pride had taken their toll on his body and soul.  Due to poor eyesight, Alvin could no longer see well enough to drive. He had bad hips and couldn’t move around very well without a cane to steady him.  Despite these things that might have deterred others from making the trip, Alvin figured out a way he could get to his brother.

He built himself a small trailer and hitched it to a riding lawnmower.  He bought some coolers to take his food in, put in a couple of chairs and some bedding to sleep on.  He also had several large containers of gasoline and all the other essentials he would need for his trip.  And, he set off traveling a few miles each day on his old, but fairly reliable John Deere mower.

Because I highly recommend this movie to anyone over the age of 13, I won’t tell you the whole story and how it ends.  Watch it.  You’ll be very glad you did.

It won’t come as a surprise, I’m sure, to know that this movie has a whole lot of life lessons in it.  Frankly, given what we are often offered by movies today, it was a joy to watch a story unfold that offered something positive, hopeful, and incredibly touching.

It’s a story of determination and vulnerability.  It’s a story of letting go of pride and embracing forgiveness.  It’s a story of sacrifice and love.  I mean, how many people do you know who would hitch a riding lawnmower to a homemade trailer and drive it nearly 400 miles because it was the only way they could think of to get to see someone they hadn’t spoken to in years? I’ve only known a couple who would have done something like that and they were pretty amazing folks.

Some of the best stories I’ve heard and some of the finest people I know have stories with a common thread that is found in Alvin’s story.  They are stories that have a heart and soul.  Because they do, they can speak to the heart and soul of others in ways that will ring true and will touch them to the depths of their being.  These folks and their stories may have things about them that will stretch our imagination or test our ability to comprehend.   But, when we hear them we will have no doubt that what was shared was honest and real.

We can hear a lot of stories everyday without much effort.  Turn on the news or log onto a social media site or sit on a bench in town and listen and watch as people pass by.  There are stories to be heard.  Our challenge these days is trying to figure out if what we’re hearing is real. Is it true? Is it honest? Is it factual? Does it matter? Who cares?  All good questions.  But, maybe we’d better ask another question while we’re at it.  Where is the heart and soul of this story? Where is the thread that is woven and linked with another to create this tapestry?  Is it a tangled web spun to deceive (thank you, Shakespeare)? Or is it intricately and thoughtfully told so that when it ends, we will know that those threads have now become part of our tapestry, our lives, too? And, we will be thankful that is so.

If we can find the stories with heart and soul, then I believe we’ve found something worth hearing.  And, they are treasures worth keeping.

I wish you peace….

In the Wilderness

We all have our version of time spent in the wilderness. Jesus faced his own trials in a barren, lonely, seemingly deserted place. As we Christians come to the end our time in the season of Lent, on this holy day called Good Friday, remember that you are in the Company of One who understands your time in the wilderness, who is with you in that time, and who will always, always love you.

For those of us who profess to be followers of Christ, today is a sacred and holy day. Good Friday is a day that Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus.

Some of us will find ourselves in church today, in solemn, quiet, reflective worship. We will try to imagine the horrible, painful way that Jesus died on a cross.  We will listen to the words from scripture that Jesus spoke to the criminals who were on either side of him as he and they died an excruciating death.  We will hear the words he spoke to his beloved disciple and his mother, who surely must have ached in every way and whose hearts must have been shattered at the sight of their beloved Jesus dying before them and having no way to stop the torture or agony that he endured.  We will hear the cry of a Son to his Father just before he breathed his last breath, asking in the depths of unfathomable pain why he had been forsaken.

And, at the end Jesus will speak his final words.  It is finished.  Father into your hands I commend my spirit.  Death has come.  The one who loved so much that he would die for all he loved–for all of us–took no more air into his lungs.  His heart stopped and his body hung lifelessly on a Roman cross.

This is not the end of the story. Mercifully, thankfully, this is not the end of the story. We know, we believe, we have faith in the light, love and joy that will be found on Easter morning.

The season of Lent and the days Christians call Holy Week are the days that are set aside to prepare us for what comes next.  From Ash Wednesday until Easter, we can find ourselves in something of a wilderness place.  After Jesus was baptized, he spent forty days in the wilderness where, as a Son of Man and a Son of God, he encountered physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges and tests.  Jesus would know in his way, just as we know in our ways, what it means to spend time in the wilderness.

Last year, during the season of Lent, I lived in the wilderness.  I did not experience the same kinds of temptations and trials that Jesus faced.  These were mine and they were extremely difficult.

I expect that we all have these wilderness experiences where we find ourselves wrestling with things that have overwhelmed us, beaten us, tempted us, scarred us and left us in places of loneliness, despair, misery and hopelessness. Life does that to us.  We do it to ourselves.  And, we can live there for a short time or, for some, the rest of our days.

I wrote about my wilderness time and felt that perhaps it would be okay to share it with anyone who wished to read it.  I offer it only for the purpose of saying to anyone who reads it that when you find yourself in that place you would call desert or wilderness–the most empty, lonely, barren place you have ever been–remember that you are not alone.  You are in the company of One whose spirit and presence is with you.  You are in the company of One who understands and has been in the place you find yourself.  And, you are in the company of One who loves you so much that He would die for you so that you need not ever be alone in the wilderness or on any part of your journey through life.

On this Good Friday, I wish you peace….

 

In the Wilderness

I’ve been to the place where it is barren and brown.  It does not invite me to be there, although I may be kept there for what seems far too long.  I am pushed there by forces that have the power to do so.  While there, I exist in the parched land that has long forgotten the taste of water.

My soul is thirsty in this dry land. My body longs for just a drop of anything that will quench this thirst.  But, the water that I need will not come from the dryness of this place.  It is in the tears that have welled within me that life comes back to me and allows me to emerge from the wilderness. It is a living water that comes from another source, put into me by One who wishes that I live abundantly and beyond the wilderness. 

As the tears fall, they wet the dust.  At first, they are only like a sprinkling on an early spring day.  But, when I give them permission to leave, they come in showers, even torrents–the kind known on hot summer days when storms emerge from the dark clouds and pass over with a force that disturbs, but also cleanses the air and the earth over which it has moved.

With each tear, my thirst lessens. With each tear, my body pushes back against the forces that sent me to the wilderness.  Tears mark time in the wilderness and when enough have been shed, when my cries have been heard, when my soul has been soothed, I find myself able to now leave the wilderness and move into a place of peace.

The journey from wilderness to peace will never be made with ease.  We rarely willingly choose to walk through wilderness.  I was pushed there and could not resist the force.

The steps are heavier in the beginning because of what I carried into the wilderness. But, when I leave, the load I carried will be lifted from me. I no longer have to keep it.  It has been taken from me.  Somewhere along the dry and dusty path, somewhere between the lightest drops of rain and the strongest storms, the Being who is more powerful than the wilderness took away what I brought in.  The Being was the only one who could bear it so that I could leave the wilderness with something else.

I leave with something more powerful than the wilderness or the forces that sent me there.

I leave with love from One who knew the wilderness, too.

I leave because this One could show me the way forward.

 

 

 

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…

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.

 

Fill in Your Own Blanks

Fill In Your Own Blanks

***I was inspired to write this after reading a post from a friend recently.  I’m always grateful for the words and thoughts that come from a brilliant and beautiful mind and a truly good soul. So, I wanted to explore those words on my own.  There’s nothing original here.  There’s nothing earth-shattering either.  My hope is that anyone who takes the time to read this will ask themselves questions that might inspire them to ignore the voices that would seek to silence them.  Instead, hear the voice that tells you, “Yes! I can!”

“You can’t do that!”  “You can’t do that because______”

You fill in the blank. My guess is there has been someone in your life who took great delight in telling you what you can’t do and why you can’t do it.

There are always those who want to define for us and make sure we understand without a doubt what’s  right or wrong, proper or improper, sacred or sacrilege, socially acceptable or rude, crude and socially unacceptable, politically correct or politically incorrect.

You must know these things, you see, because if you deviate from what you’ve been told you should do or be or believe, you will get yourself in trouble.  Worse still, you will create problems for others. You will be a trouble-maker and no one likes those. Right?

So, what have we been told we could or couldn’t do by someone else? And, why did they feel compelled to fill in that blank for us?

Side Note:  This isn’t about conversations we have with children, telling them they can’t do something because what they think they want to do involves an issue of safety and they might be harmed by their actions.   There are perfectly good reasons to tell a child (or an adult) they can’t do something that have everything to do with love for that person and for their well-being.  I’m a mother.  I have lot’s of practice with this one.

This is a different kind of “you can’t do that.”

This is the “you can’t do that” that seeks to stop us from being who we are and living an authentic life.  It’s the voice that tells us we are something less than and unworthy.  And, it is a voice that does harm, causes endless pain, and relentlessly kills the spirit of one who was once filled with life and possibility.

Maybe you’ve heard those kinds of “you can’t” words.  Here are some of the ones I’ve heard over time.

  • You live in the wrong neighborhood.
  • You don’t deserve that.
  • You can’t have that because I never got that.
  • You aren’t smart enough to go to college.
  • You’re too smart and you are a threat to others.
  • You won’t finish college. You’ll get married and quit.
  • You don’t have enough money so you can’t.
  • Who would hire you?  You don’t know anything about doing that.
  • You’re too young.
  • You’re too old.
  • You’re a female. You won’t get hired.
  • You’re divorced. You won’t get hired.
  • You have children.  It will be too hard for you to manage that.
  • You don’t have a degree.
  • You don’t have the right degree.
  • You don’t have a degree from the right school.
  • You don’t have enough education.
  • Your voice is too high and you don’t sound good.
  • Your writing is weak.
  • You’re too attractive.
  • You aren’t attractive enough.
  • You’re too big (meaning I was too fat).
  • You aren’t worth the effort.
  • You aren’t the right fit/the right person.
  • You don’t have the right experience.
  • You don’t have the right credentials.
  • You aren’t enough. And, you never will be.

Is that enough for you?  It has been more than enough for me.  The saddest thing I can tell you about this list, besides the fact that these were things that were actually said to me, is that there were far too many of them that I believed were true.  Not all of them.  But, some of them were enough to give pause to even the most confident person, and I haven’t always had confidence in myself.

Let me stop right here and say that I’m not writing this for pity or sympathy or attention.  Nope.  That’s not what this is about at all.

This is about offering a different voice that maybe someone will hear above the ones that tell us we can’t.

It’s time to stop letting others fill in the blanks for you.  FILL IN YOUR OWN BLANKS!

Fill in the blank with the answers that work best for you.  The real ones.  Those will be the answers that you already have within you.  They’ve been given to you by The One who knows you completely.  And, our job is to listen for the truth in that voice, the truth that is within us, the truth that lives in our core being and longs to be heard.  Hear that true voice and believe what it says!

They are answers for the blanks that you will discover with the help of those who love you without condition and care enough about you to give you room to question, explore, think, reflect, and dive into what’s in front of you and around you.  These are answers you will cherish because they will show you the value of learning and growing as you share your life with others who genuinely delight in seeing you grow into your real self.

They are answers that will come out of difficult and painful experiences.  That’s how life works.  Not everyone will like who we are.  Not everyone will care and not everyone will want us to succeed.  Not everyone will be nice or play nice.  Some will be just plain ol’ mean, rotten, and nasty.  Know without a doubt that there really is evil in the world because there is.  And, it will seek us out and do everything it can to destroy us.  Do not, under any circumstances, let evil fill in your blanks.  But, do let the hard experiences teach you things that will not only give you truth but will allow you to share what you’ve been given with others.

Be who you are.  Be who you are called and created to be.  Use what you’ve been given to the best of your ability.  Do it for good–for your good and the good of others in the world.

There are always those who will be very glad to fill in your blanks for you.  And, you can let them do that if you want.  It’s a choice.  It’s your choice.

It takes courage to fill in your own blanks. When you fill in your own blanks, be honest.  The only right answer is the one that is true.  What is your truth?  What is real for you? What answers are the very best reflection of the human being you have the potential to be?

For some of us, filling in the blanks with the true answer has taken some time.  But, there is a sense of freedom that comes with the truth. And, it was worth whatever it took to get to the truth.

As you walk your journey of life and fill in your blanks, I wish you peace…

Stories with Heart and Soul

Reverend Mother

There was a movie that came out several years ago called The Straight Story.  It’s based on the true story of a man named Alvin Straight who traveled from his home in Iowa to Wisconsin to see his brother.  On the surface, that’s not much of a story. But, there were a couple of things that made this story worth telling and worth hearing.

You see, Alvin and his brother hadn’t spoken to each other in several years.  They’d fought about something and as a result they refused to be in contact.  But, when Alvin received word that his brother, his only sibling,  had fallen ill and been in the hospital, Alvin decided he should go to see his brother.

Seems simple enough:  except it wasn’t. (No one makes movies about simple things.  They don’t sell tickets.) Alvin hadn’t lived an easy life.  His time in the service, the…

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