Sunday morning as I arrived at church I took quite the tumble. The response of the people at the church was awesome. Two nurses, four other men, an OT, the Pastor's spouse, and a retired Pastor with his choir robes flowing in the breeze. They got me into a wheelchair, back onto my scooter, did the requisite assessments, and grabbed an ice pack. Everyone was helpful, concerned, and on point with their response. When it was all over, in fact, after I arrived home, I kept feeling as though something was missing in the response. There was something else I could have used, but what was it? A hug. I really could have used a good, comforting, life-affirming hug. In recent years, in our attempt to guard against inappropriate hugs we have pretty much ceased this method of communication. Oh, we may now and then give one of those side-hugs, but sometimes what is needed is an old-fashioned front-to-front, or at least arms-shoulders-heads A-frame hug. People need that person-to-person touch, and I hope we can find a way to swing the pendulum back a bit and recover it.
There was a time in which Jesus was surrounded by people, and yet sensed some healing power had gone out from him. The disciples mocked him, pointing out the press of humanity all around, but he turned around and found her: the woman who had had a flow of blood for 18 years. It had separated her from her family, from her community, from her place of worship. I imagine the encounter goes something like this: he notices her by her down-turned eyes, reaches his hand down and stands her up. She protests, as the touch will make him also unclean, but he persists. "Daughter, your faith has made you well," he says, and he wraps his arms around her in a life-giving, reconciling, welcoming embrace. With that she re-enters society, and begins to feel strong again. We need to find a way to return to hugging one another again.
Loving God, in response to real concerns in our world we seem to have gone a bit too far trying not to impose ourselves on one another. The gift of human touch is so important that it truly can bring a sense of healing and power to the one receiving it. Help us to be the beginning of a movement in which hugs become a part of our interactions with one another again. Yes, we know we need to be respectful and ask first, but when permission is granted, be with us as we wrap our loving arms around one another to convey your love......Amen.
Every Sunday I sit in the back of a very large downtown church. I'm part of the A/V team. I push the buttons that change the images on the screens, and I change the screens to camera shots when helpful. On the wall behind me is a plaque that is in the neighborhood of 4' x 6' that lists the history of the church and those who have served it from the beginning. Many of the more recent ones include pictures, which I love to see as their staff has gone from stern looking men to the current jolly, round white guy and joyful, round black woman. Their joy is infectious, and they leap off the board. Sprinkled within the listing of clergy are things like, "Columbia on the Hannibal Circuit", and "Missouri finally a station!" Missouri UMC is the church. Interspersed are notes about the '39 merger and the '68 merger. And yes, there are tags for the splits, too. Well, the ones that happened within the history of the congregation.
Sitting in front of that board every week gives me hope, and helps me feel some degree of security. Over the years there have been splits, unions, and changes the original clergy could never imagine. But through it all the church remains. Sometimes large, sometimes smaller, sometimes unsure of tomorrow, but always doing its best to live out God's call to make disciples and love our neighbors.
Loving God, the part of your church here on earth that has been known as United Methodist is in a state of crisis, and covered in uncertainty and insecurity. We've been here before, just not in our lifetimes. As we look back on those times we realize that you lead the church, in whatever form it takes, as long as the church still earnestly seeks to do your will. Wrap your loving arms around us, and reassure us that whatever happens your Spirit will lead us through it, and the church will move forward. Maybe not looking as it currently does, but looking as you need it in this 21st century.......Amen.
Every day a Seminary friend sends out to her facebook friends a beautiful picture, usually of flowers in full bloom, or rainbows, something beautiful in nature. She calls it the "Moment of Beauty". She has always taken the pictures herself, and she has a fine eye for photography. A few days ago, instead of flowers in full bloom, she sent a picture of buds. My first thought was that these were not beautiful, they were just green balls with a little pink showing through. But then I thought some more, and realized that the beauty was right in front of me: the beauty of possibility, of potential, of what could be, of what will be. It's the beauty of anticipation, of the unknown.
I believe this is a part of what drew people to Jesus. At first he wasn't much. What drew the first disciples to him? What caused the first women to gather around? Why would the few widows with money use it to support his ministry? Because, like my friend, they had an eye for what might be. They could see the flower in the bud, the promise in a beginning. May God open our eyes to see and appreciate the beauty all around us, even in the buds.
Loving God, our sister Natalie has reminded us that in the bud there is a flower, in the seed an apple tree, in cocoons a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free. Grant us the grace to see the promise in the things around us which do not, on their surface, look like much. Whether buds, seeds, people, or even churches, let us see the potential, and work together with you to bring it forth.....Amen.
"The rain falls on the just and on the unjust." Except not this year. This year the rain all seems to be falling in one or two places, and leaving the rest of us to dry up. Our grass seems to have already gone dormant, dust is everywhere, and let's not talk about crops and livestock. Much of California and Oregon are on fire. In Australia they're shooting their herds rather than let them die from dehydration. England is not getting their normal rainstorms, but Arizona is. In the meantime Pennsylvania is about to float away, along with a few other states. And weather people tell us it will only get worse.
Does this mean God hates us? No, although I doubt that God is happy with what we've done to the planet. In Genesis God tells Adam and Eve, and Noah and his family to care for the earth. We are inheritors of that command, and yet there are islands of trash and plastic floating in our oceans, glaciers melting north and south, and water consuming islands and communities worldwide. And yet so many just sit back and do nothing, as though the problem were going to fix itself. The Earth is crying out. Will we respond, or sit in silence until there's nothing left?
Creator God, we confess that we have been more of the problem than the solution when it comes to caring for the earth. We enjoy our relatively cushy lives. We enjoy the lifestyle gas and plastics can give us. We enjoy our nice, long showers. But we are finding that the earth cannot sustain our lifestyle. The earth cannot continually renew itself, and if it loses the ice caps we will be in all kinds of trouble. Help us to find ways to make changes not only in our lives, but also in the politics of our nation that we as a people may take better care of the earth you have given us. Amen
A few weeks ago a man well into his nineties died in Florida. I know, nothing very surprising about that. But what surprised me was how much my Facebook feed blew up with the information. It started with my Disney-related pages, but quickly moved to National News pages, and then friends sharing his story. You see, this man was still working. He had two jobs: He was a greeter at the most expensive resort at Walt Disney World (WDW); At that same resort he helped brides pull themselves together and smoothed out their trains before they headed down the aisle in the Wedding Pavilion. OK, so he was 90+ and still working, but beyond that why lift him up? Well, it turns out he had a gift for making people feel welcomed and cared-for. His reputation was so strong that people staying in other WDW resorts would travel to his just to be greeted by him. He was able to make people feel that they were extremely important to him, and to the rest of Disney.
I believe one of Jesus' gifts was this same ability to help people to believe that they were wanted, loved, and important. Richard Gerth did it at WDW, but who do we have in our churches who has this gift? I've known a few in my lifetime, and they helped their churches immensely. Who has that natural gift of hospitality? Who can help new people connect with established members? Who can help them find their place? Who helps them feel important? Sure we can cultivate those people, but it's much easier if they have the gift and it comes naturally. How much different would our witness to new folks and potential members be if they felt loved, cared-for, and important the minute they walked in the door?
God of grace, you have gifted each one of us with abilities we can use to build up your reign here on earth. We can welcome people into the church, we can preach, we can teach, we can bake cookies, we have good financial know-how, we can fix things when they break. No one of us has it all, but together we can accomplish good things for you. Give us the grace, and the courage to tap into our gifts, and offer them up to be used as you see fit........Amen.
I've been watching Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", and at one point Quasimodo sings about his life in the tower over against the people down below. He sings that "every day they go about their lives, heedless of the gift it is to be them." In that instance I can identify with Quasi. I have been cooped up in my apartment for 3+ months, following surgery. I sit and watch other people, able to walk, able to get in and out of their cars, able to just take a quick step up onto the curb, and they go about their days without a thought to how amazing it is that they can get up and go. I think most of us, until we can't, just go about our lives as though what we do is perfectly normal, unaware that there are persons who live entirely differently: some can't hear, some can't see, some can't walk, some can barely move, some don't have running water, heat, or electricity, some can't access education, some are food insecure, some are without shelter. It's easy to just live our lives on and on without giving a thought to those who live differently, and what we might be able to do to help them to live better and/or easier.
I'm reminded of the friends who brought one of their friends to Jesus for healing. First of all it's amazing that he had such good friends, who would take time out of their lives to care for him. But when they couldn't get to Jesus the easy way, they hauled him onto the roof, and lowered him down. Nothing would stand in the way of their helping this man to stand and walk again. There are so many needs in the world that it's easy to become discouraged, but like the story of the kid on the beach throwing the starfish back into the sea: we may not be able to help everyone, but we can make a difference in the life of one.
Loving God, we know that you are God over all the world, and often we wonder why it is that some seem to be more blessed than others. Scripture tells us that from those to whom much is given, much will be required. Keep our hearts and minds open to ways that we, who have been given so much, can assist others in living their lives to the fullest. Even if what we can do is pray for them or be in contact so they don't feel isolated, all the way to going and digging wells or fixing homes. Give us grace to be aware day by day "what a gift it is to be [us]".......Amen
The weather people keep promising sunshine. Tomorrow, they say. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. Tomorrow was supposed to be today, but now it's tomorrow. One thing about it, whether today is tomorrow, or tomorrow is tomorrow, one day the sun will shine again. It's one of the beautiful things about spring, and especially April...the promises come to fruition. The snow melts, the rains come, the sun shines, the trees bud, the flowers bloom, the asparagus grows, and the misery that was late winter fades from memory.
Scripture is full of promises. One is that Messiah would come, and after much more time than people probably wanted, he came. One is that God cares for us even more than for the birds of the air or the flowers of the field, and in our best days we acknowledge that to be true. One is that Jesus would return, even after being killed. I'm sure his followers doubted that one during those few horrible days, but then, there he was. And one was that we would not be left alone, but God's Spirit would be with us forever to lead and guide, to comfort and challenge, and we know that to be true, as well. Tomorrow, and the promises it holds, always comes.
God who holds our tomorrows, we acknowledge that in our darkest days we find it difficult to hold on to the promises of tomorrow. We become bogged down in whatever concern is overwhelming us at the time, and can't see the way out. Help us, in those dark times, to remember that you are our way out. Your Spirit will lead us and uplift us. Your promises are true and can be trusted. And when the gray days are over, the sun will return. We will look back and understand how you were with us through the darkness.......Amen.
I'm scheduled for surgery March 12. In researching I have discovered that this surgery is more painful than knee replacement, and has the longest recovery of any surgery. I will have to lie in bed with leg raised for 2 weeks, then be non-weight bearing for 3 months, spending most of it with the leg elevated. If the bones fuse, then I start learning to walk again. Today was the pre-op appointment. I am always amazed at all the things they ask, and all the tests they do in order to know what's going on inside a person. Why can't we have those little hand-held contraptions they had in Star Trek? Blood tests, EKG, x-rays, stethoscopes to listen, and thousands of questions asked a dozen times each. My house looks like a hospital: wheelchair, mobility scooter, two different kinds of walkers, and bars to help lift are absolutely everywhere.
Naturally, I am drawn to the stories of Jesus healing folks. Some of them came themselves, or called out to him, others were brought by friends, and one woman sneaked up quietly behind him and touched the hem of his coat. They each presented with different dis-eases: skin issues, blindness, walking issues, uncontrollable bleeding, deafness, even death. Most of them came in faith, believing that this man would be able to heal them so they could return to their communities, and be contributing members of society. Isn't that what we all want? A way to be in community, and to contribute to the world. Being sick in any way separates you from the community, and as wonderful as social media is, it is not the same as being among other people, or participating in events nearby. So in a way Jesus was not just healing the individual person, but was also healing their community by returning the person to full participation in it.
God of our days and nights, they say it takes a village to raise a child, well it also takes a village to help a person feel both needed and whole. Without our villages we sit in our spaces and draw into ourselves. Today we thank you for villages which support us, encourage us, need us, and to which we return when we are healthy and strong. We pray for your healing touch for all those who are in need, whether from injury, from illness, or even from gunshot wounds. So many have been ill with flu and pneumonia, so many have been injured by falling on ice, and again we are grieving with a community following a school shooting. Bring your healing touch to our minds, bodies, and spirits, that all our bodies and our villages may be made whole once more......Amen.