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.
On Sunday mornings I have to ride the bus from our community to get to church as I have no one to get the wheelchair or scooter out of the car. This past Sunday it had snowed about an inch as we were leaving, and we drove past the wooded area. Since the leaves are down the snow highlighted the many fallen trees in the woods. Normally we don't notice them, even with the leaves down, but the snow brought them to our attention, and they were the topic of conversation for a few minutes. I have been attending worship using a wheelchair to get around but Sunday I arrived using my new mobility scooter. No one said a word. I even mentioned it to someone, and they stepped back and looked carefully before offering their congratulations. All through the morning no one said anything. I'm still wondering if they didn't say anything because they don't want to draw attention to the machine, or if they are truly paying so much attention to the person in the machine that it becomes superfluous. I choose to believe the latter.
We don't always notice things that are right in front of us. Jesus asked a crowd once to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. He either assumed that they were items people usually noticed, or they were in the field in which the people were sitting. I wonder how many people, when he called these items to their attention were surprised to see them all around. Some people can walk through downtown areas and not see the persons all around them who have no shelter. My challenge to us in the next few days is to be more alert to what is around us, the positive, the negative, so that we might enjoy the positive and begin to find ways to alleviate the negative.
Creator God, you have filled the world with amazing things, and yet we are so often wrapped up in our own issues and activities that we might miss what is right in front of us. We also have a tendency to not see the people around us, or to not notice the challenges making their lives more difficult. If we don't see them we cannot work to alleviate them, so open our eyes that we might see what is before us. Open our hearts to respond, and grant us the courage we may need to do so......Amen
In Portmouth, Virginia there is a large downtown church. It's founding was in 1772. Francis Asbury was one of the first preachers. He was also their first Bishop, followed by Wm. McKendree. The building has gone through at least three changes over it's many years, but in its current form you enter the sanctuary in the back, under the huge u-shaped balcony, and the sanctuary stretches out more than half a city block, a shining beacon of the name she was given early: Monumental. The choir sits behind the chancel, and the ranks and ranks of pipes hang over their heads. If you were to walk down the center aisle and sit in the third-from-the-front pew on the right side you would be following in the footsteps of multiple generations of the Watts family. My sister, my brother, and I were all baptized there, and I considered taking my boys back for theirs, as well. I have not attended since 1975, when we returned to clean out my Grandmother's house. It was the kind of place where the men wore their best suits and ties, the women wore dresses, hats, and gloves, and everybody wore their Sunday Shoes. Over the years, like many huge downtown churches, it faltered and nearly failed, but has rediscovered its mission and ministry to downtown Portsmouth and the nearby Naval personnel and families, (and is not as formal). Needing a lot of shoring-up in both the sanctuary and in the steeple standing above the narthex they gathered their funds and began with the narthex/steeple. When we were there in November for my Aunt's burial we were unable to go in due to massive scaffolding.
It was 11:30 Wednesday morning, just two days ago. Inside the scaffolding, on the back side of the steeple: A small spark, a whiff of smoke, a door was opened, and the steeple went up like a candle. Fire trucks from Portsmouth, Norfolk and the Portsmouth Naval Station did their best as huge wooden beams aflame, and fiery embers fell all around, many setting neighboring businesses and the sanctuary roof afire. By 4 they had it out, but around 6:30, as these things are wont to do it reflamed. The rekindling was discovered by TV crews doing a location shoot ahead of the big snow storm. (My Jr Hi Sunday School teacher would have called that a God-incidence). The steel beams of the steeple still stand, like arms upstretched to heaven. The sanctuary was saved, but is water-logged. The only good news there is that insurance may pay for the needed construction. Even now I can't look at the pictures, or even write these words without tears. Their young Pastor, Megan, has brought together all the needed committees, who are already at work, and other downtown churches are offering their spaces for worship. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes she will return, but is in need of ongoing prayers for Megan, the congregation, and those with whom they minister.
God of our past, our present, and our future we know that there are times in our lives when we pass through fire and floods. We know that in those times you do not leave us alone to face our struggles, but walk with us through them until we come out on the other side. Today we pray for all those facing the weirdness of this winter weather that is dry where it should be wet, wet where it should be dry, warm where it should be cold, and cold where it should be warm. We also pray for Megan and the congregation at Monumental UMC as they have walked through the fire and water, and now seek your guiding on how to proceed. In the midst of this trauma keep before them the needs of those to whom they minister that they may not become self-absorbed. A firm foundation has been laid for them, let them build upon it, and be an example for their Conference, and for all of us in the Connection...Amen
We buried my aunt last week. Her death was somewhat unexpected, even though she was 94.5. She had been a DCE serving multiple churches in Virginia, and one in Chattanooga, TN. She also worked as an interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg after finishing with churches. She was a Diaconal Minister, and was my dad's sister.
I was going to write this week about how sad it is to outlive everyone who knew you. My cousin, her nephew, planned just a graveside service because he didn't really expect anyone to be there. It had been 30 years since she had been employed by a church, and at least 10 since she had attended Annual Conference, but I and her Pastor sent her info to the Conference Office, who sent it out by email. To my everlasting surprise, and my cousin's complete shock, there were in the neighborhood of 30 people (including a retired Bishop) who came out in the cold rain to bear witness to her life. We shared stories and told of the ways she had touched and changed our lives. It truly was a holy moment.
I think about the disciples. Most were fisherfolk. They expected to live their lives fishing. Even after meeting Jesus they never would have expected that more than 2000 years later we would still remember their names. They were just living their lives as faithfully and authentically as they could. We never know the impact we are having on the people around us. Most of the time we just go day by day living our lives as best we can, and do not expect to leave any sort of lasting legacy. Why are we here? What is the purpose of our lives? These are questions we really cannot answer for ourselves. It is up to the people we touch to make those determinations. All we can do is live faithfully, and try to be a blessing to those we meet. But in the end it is nice to know that some of those people we touched will remember...
Loving God, you were there to hear our borning cry, you were there as we grew. In the middle ages of our lives, as we age, and when we reach the end you will still be with us. In all those ages and stages we pray for your guiding presence as we strive to live faithfully, with honesty, integrity, and authenticity. May we touch those who cross our paths with the same love and compassion you would show them. May we see your face in all those we meet, so that their memories of us will be strong and positive..........Amen