Submerged Under Water (A Few Thoughts on Resurrection)

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+ Romans 6:4 “We are buried with Christ through baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of God, we too, may live a new life…”

On Easter morning, we baptized 5 of our young disciples. Parents and grandparents and friends gathered to witness this wonderful event.

This was a reenactment of the resurrection…

On Easter morning, I asked each of these young people: Do you believe in a living God, a redeeming Christ, and an inspiring Holy Spirit? And they said yes.

With that, I lifted them down into the deep, holy waters of our baptistery. And then, I raised them up to their whole cloud of witnesses at the church.

But across the world in South Korea, in this very same weekend, other parents, other grandparents and friends wait and grieve as they, too, witnessed their young people submerged under deep waters.

A ship of 475 passengers took a sharp turn in a fast current and began to tip over. Reports say that the captain waited 30 minutes to order an evacuation.

Nearly 175 passengers, including the captain and many crew members escaped.

But 100 were lost in this accident, and 200 are still missing.

They say families of those lost can be heard crying and wailing loudly on the shores.

The sorrow is deep among these witnesses… these parents. It’s as if they stand at the foot of the cross…

After Jesus carried the heavy cross through Jerusalem, he was brought to a hill on Calvary, and there, his loved ones wept. There, the sounds of piercing cries and screams from his mother who wept for her son could be heard.

Then, early, on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb of her Rabbi. It was still dark. She came to grieve, she came to pay tribute and keep vigil with her beloved who had died.

But when she arrives, the stone that covered the tomb was rolled away…

This resurrection story continues to whisper good news: Tombs will be emptied. All of the tears in our eyes will be wiped away. Hope will be restored. Even out of death, God will draw out life, and strength, and new beginnings.

When Christ was lowered into the tomb, into the burial waters, he went with his arms wide open. Jesus outstretched his arms to reach for all of God’s people.

Under those burial waters, he reached for the 200 still missing in the ocean off the Coast of South Korea and gathered them close, he reached for our mothers, fathers, grandparents, and lost friends. Jesus reached for all those who we have loved and lost.

And with one embrace, with one holy act of love through resurrection, Christ has carried all those we have loved and lost into the presence of God.

In Eastertide, we celebrate empty tombs, we celebrate the arms of Christ that reach around the whole world.

The good news of Easter is this- every tomb will be emptied because Christ has put death to death with those outstretched arms of hope.

 

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Maundy Thursday (Shaped Through Communion)

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“… and God, be with all those who are hungry tonight, who do not break bread with their friends like we do. Help us remember them. Amen.”

Those were the final words prayed by one of the 11-year-olds in my Pastor’s Class last Saturday night.

We gathered in my home for a meal of hot enchiladas followed by ice cream with chocolate sauce. We planned this evening as a celebration of the end of our 6 week intensive study of Christianity, God, and Jesus. We laughed. We recalled everything that the class learned so far. These young, bright souls can tell you a lot about Jesus.

If you say: what is a parable? They can answer.

If you ask them to tell you about miracles from the gospels-they will tell you about crowds of 5,000 being fed, men with leprosy being healed, and their all-time favorite: Jesus spitting in the dirt and making mud to wipe in the eyes of a blind man to give him sight…

When we gathered last Saturday, before feasting ourselves, we explored communion. We wanted to go way back and learn about the Passover festival that brought thousands of people into Jerusalem long ago on the last week of Christ’s life. We studied passages about that Passover meal from the gospels of Luke and Matthew. We read the words of institution through scripture.

And then, on one side of my living room: I set up a little altar- and I invited each of the Pastor’s Class kids to say the words of institution while breaking bread and blessing the cup. I invited them to say a prayer. And finally, each participant served communion to their mentor that night.

One by one, these kids went to the altar as we all gathered as a small congregation in my living room. And one by one, they would say these words from the Gospel of Matthew: after the supper Jesus took a loaf of bread…

On a Saturday night, we spent time in my living room writing prayers, serving communion and talking about God…

Again, tonight, my church came to the altar to remember that Passover meal. We read scriptures, we prayed, we served communion and we slowly put out the lights- one candle at a time…

Tonight, we remember the Passover meal shared between friends long ago. We remember the many generations of people who have come together at a table to break bread and remember God’s abundance and grace even in the midst of our brokenness.

My own understanding of the Passover meal deepened as I saw young people preside at the table on Saturday.

They spoke and prayed and served with such reverence. They approached the table with such anticipation and hope.

They reminded me of what we are all called to do every time we remember the Passover Meal that Jesus shared with his disciples: we break bread for everything in the world that is still broken, we share the cup in honor of the deep thirst still present among us… and we pray for our neighbors.

May we all be strengthened by this reminder tonight, as we honor Maundy Thursday.

Shaped Through Tears

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+ John 11: 32-33 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

We dedicated prayer shawls at Community Christian Church on Sunday.

These shawls wrap around us in times of deep pain, agonizing grief, and exhausting journeys of recovery. Sometimes, these prayer shawls hold the first tears of a new born baby. Sometimes these shawls hold the seemingly endless tears in the years after we lose someone we love.

Even though we blessed these prayer shawls on Sunday, we do not always honor tears in our culture. Instead, we love to offer cliché responses to suffering.

Sometimes, I hear people say: “I am not going to cry about this loss, because my loved one is with God now, in a better place, so I will celebrate!”

We often bury our grief.

But to do this—to avoid weeping and grieving for those we love– is to do something that Jesus himself could not do. On Sunday, we lingered in the scripture about Lazarus’ death. This is the story of Jesus himself losing someone he loved deeply.

Most of the time when we hear this story about Lazarus, we skip right to the next part where Jesus brings him back to life- another miracle, another sign of resurrection, another indication that Easter is coming and that all things are possible with God.

But I want to focus on the incredible moment in the scriptures that plays out when Mary finds Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus- when they both come face to face with the pain and grief of the moment.

When Mary heard Jesus was at the tomb, she went to find him and when she found Jesus, she fell to her knees. Mary must have grabbed tightly to the soft, warm robe surrounding Jesus that day.

And right there, in the middle of the road in a town called Bethany, she buried her face into the stitches of that soft surface and cried.

This warm shawl of Christ must have been full of prayers and hope in each stitch. I imagine she curled into a ball with that shawl pressed to her face, and then, she filled it with tears.

And there, standing beside her was Jesus- weeping too.

This is beautiful, vulnerable, tenderhearted image of God incarnate, weeping right there in the middle of the street with Mary as she grieved.

Isn’t this still true today?

Was Christ’s robe one of the first prayer shawls offered to someone who grieves?

Slipped into the Gospel, between stories of Christ’s teaching and the mystery of resurrection, we must take time to fully grasp the moment where Christ stands right beside us to weep.

May we all remember this gentle, compassionate, tender side of Christ, and may we be strengthened by this image of the divine.

Excerpt From the Installation Sermon Preached by Johnny Wray (Shaped Through Mentors)

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On March 2nd, my long time mentor and friend and one of my idols- the Reverend Johnny Wray- preached my    installation service at Community Christian Church. All 1600 words were carefully crafted and preached- but this is part of his message. Every time I re-read his sermon, I am reminded of the importance of mentors that have gone ahead of us and paved a way for us to follow.

 

 

 

 

Preached March 2, 2014 by the Reverend Johnny Wray

The word “install”… comes from an Old French word (estaler) – meaning to place, to set up, to position, to establish. And that is precisely what pastors are called to do — getting things in place and making the space for the Spirit of God to move and to work; and preparing, setting up, positioning the congregation to hear and to heed the words of Jesus.

For example, Sarah, I’m thinking of: the children in the congregation-and the responsibility you have, as their pastor, as the installer of faith in them. To nurture them in the love of God, to teach them the stories of Jesus and the ways of Jesus, to instill in them a deep appreciation for Holy Communion and all the traditions and practices of the church, to provide a safe place for them to share their stories, their joys and sorrows, to welcome them as a child of God. You are an installer of faith.

There are also folks here who draw every breath in pain – may be the physical pain of illness, of the parental pain of watching one’s child suffer, or the emotional pain of loss – the loss of a spouse, a child, a parent, any beloved… And as their pastor – you are called to install comfort – to hold the hand at the bedside, to wipe the tear at the graveside, to provide a shoulder, a listening ear, a caring heart. An installer of comfort.

There are also folks here who are afraid. We live in fearful times – the world can be a dangerous and dark place. People are afraid – some are afraid of death, some are afraid of life. Some are afraid of change, some afraid of anything different… and you are called to install hope.

You, Sarah, are also called to be an installer of compassion. When we are tempted – as we often are – to withdraw into ourselves, to look out for self first, to neglect, ignore the needs of the neighbor next door, across town, around the world — You are called to install in us, to help us live with the suffering of others — that will include the suffering of others right here in this congregation and in this community. It will also include the suffering of survivors of hurricanes along the Gulf Coast and tornadoes in the Midwest and those in our society who’ve fallen out, been left out, cast out. It will include the suffering of victims of civil war in Syria and South Sudan, of hunger in Zimbabwe, of earthquakes in Haiti, of poverty in Bangladesh. You are the reminder of one of the fundamental teachings of Jesus: we find life when we give it away in self-emptying, self-giving love. It is in learning to live with and share the suffering of others that we are able to realize a life of passion, peace and joy.

You are called Sunday after to Sunday to stand in this pulpit, open the scriptures, listen to the world around you, peer into the hearts of these people and install a fresh, relevant word from God; sometimes you’ll need to install justice – when the wrong seems oft so strong, when things must be set right; other times you’ll be called to make the space for a spirit of generosity or a spirit of hospitality; or make the space for a sense of wonder or a touch of humor. . .

But even more — neither is it you and the congregation alone. There can be no service of installation more necessary, more critical than your making that space within your own life and in the life of the congregation to be open to receive the gift of the Spirit.

So Sarah – with your gifts, with the gifts of this congregation, with the gifts of the Holy Spirit – there can be no doubt that the best days of this congregation still lie ahead. Amen.

Antiracism Training (Shaped Through Awareness)

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+ Micah 6:8 What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

I spent the last few days in Columbus for the “New to the Region” Clergy training. For our session today, we focused on antiracism.

We mapped out a timeline of racism and resistance in this country since 1492.

We explored individual, institutional and cultural racism that still seeps in to our society in 2014.

We heard a personal testimony from a member of the Christian Church who has endured profiling in his search for apartments and encountered fear from his neighbors on vacation.

At the end of the class day, the white members of the class took turns reading statements aloud that started with “As a white person…” and some of the phrases pierced my heart:

As a white person, I can, if I wish, be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

As a white person, I can turn on the television, the front page of the newspaper, read the corporate annual report, and see people of my race reaching their dreams and widely represented in the success stories I aspire to.

As a white person, I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

Naming our white privilege and spending time listening to the stories and personal experiences of our brothers and sisters of color deeply moved me today. I felt the weight and the responsibility of my privilege- and the importance of awareness, advocacy and partnership across all racial/cultural lines.

When have you felt shaped through awareness? #ShapedByGod

When Andrew Prayed for Me (Shaped Through Love)

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We said our ordination vows in unison. We have seen the world together. We have presided over infant dedications, weddings, and funerals together. We have led mission trips together. We laugh together. But one of the most meaningful things that Andrew offers me comes in the form of prayer.

On March 2nd, as Community Christian Church officially ‘installed’ me as their new minister- Andrew offered this prayer at the service:

God of Creation, God of Compassion, God of New Beginnings,

We give thanks for bringing us all together today to celebrate the new chapter in the life of this historic church.

We ask you to bless the ministry of Rev. Sarah as she leads this gathered body of Christ into a future filled with hope, filled with grace and filled with joy.

God of infinite wisdom- guide this community as we work together to fulfill Your will to bring light to the dark places, to bring hope to the hopeless and mercy to all of your children in this world.

Be here working through this community, knitting us together into a family, weaving the threads of these people gathered into one great story.

We pray all of these things in Your many holy names. Amen

Through Andrew, I remember each day how much we can all be shaped by love.

Who shapes your life through love? #ShapedByGod

Meeting at the Well (Shaped Through Thirst)

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+ John 4:6-7, 15 Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water…and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”… The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty…”

Two thirsty people meet at a well, in the hottest part of the day as the sun beats down in the Samaritan desert. And they need each other.

I love this story.

A rabbi intentionally wanders into enemy territory alone, to a well, with no bucket- in the sweltering heat of noonday. Other Jews would have warned him: do not speak to Samaritans- it will make you unclean. Do not associate with that group of unholy people- you will be cast out.

He ignores convention and expectation- and he intentionally wanders to a well in the middle of a desert with no vessel for water: putting himself at the mercy of strangers to quench his thirst.

There, he meets an untouchable woman who is fetching water in solitude.

Going to the well usually meant a time to socialize with the women of the village: to share stories about their children, to laugh about their husbands, to catch up on community gossip. But instead, this woman ventured to the well alone- did she have anyone in her corner? Did she have a single friend to spend time with at this social well in her community?

She ignored the stigma and loneliness of collecting water in isolation. And yet, she had a deep thirst too. She longed to be seen, to be spoken-to, to be offered a sip of community, friendship, and inclusion.

The rabbi and the woman- both thirsty. Both in need. And at the well- they helped each other. They created a bridge where there was once a barrier.

I love this story.

What are you thirsty for?

What ways are you called to offer something to your unsuspecting neighbor?

What do you seek at ‘the well’?

#ShapedByGod

Born of Water, Spirit, Baptism? (Shaped Through Birth)

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+ John 3:4-5 “How can someone be born again?” Nicodemus asked… Jesus answered, “No one can know God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”

The five bright souls in my pastor’s class this year continue to inspire me. They are preparing to be born of water and spirit as they submerge and rise from the waters of baptism.

Last week, I invited each of the participants to draw a picture of God, and I asked them to come prepared to answer these questions: Who is God? When did you feel close to God? Have you ever been angry at God? Have you ever felt that God was not there?

One brought a drawing of God as a large pair of arms stretching out around the whole world. One brought an image of God above the clouds, looking down at the earth. One brought an image of God as a beautiful woman- dressed up and ready to conquer anything.
And then, we asked the questions: have you ever been angry at God? Have you ever felt that God was not there?

Slowly, quietly at first, my pastor’s class participants began whispering their deepest concerns. “What about the Boston Bombing at the marathon? I was angry at God that day.”

Another spoke up: “when the bomb went off, I felt that God wasn’t there…”

The Pastor’s class talked about those moments when bad things happen in the world. Where is God? Why do we feel angry at God in those moments? Why do we doubt? What would it look like to see the Boston bombing through the lens of faith?

Even on the journey to baptism, we have questions…

The bright souls in the Pastor’s class began to use their lens of faith- they began to show signs and signals that they were being reborn by water and the Holy Spirit.

I asked them: if you were going to draw a picture of God on the day of the Boston bombing, what would you draw?

One student said: “I would draw God weeping, kneeling, with tears rushing down.”

Then, another student said- “I agree, God would be weeping. But then, I believe God would get up and begin to pick up all the broken pieces on the ground from the bomb, and hold them close…”

With these images of hope and renewal and transformation, this year’s Pastor’s Class taught me something about what it means to be born again by water and the spirit- about what it means to put on a lens of faith, to submerge deeply into the waters of baptism and to rise re-born- with eyes to see God in the world.

This is what it means to be shaped by birth in the hope of our creator. May all of this come to pass for you in the days ahead as we journey toward Easter. #ShapedByGod

If you could meet a figure from the Bible, who would it be? (Shaped Through Imagination)

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Yes, I am sure we would all love to meet Christ, but that was out of the question, who would you want to meet?

When I studied at Harvard I worked under theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. Elisabeth invites her students to explore the untold stories of the scriptures. She urges all of us to reclaim the influence of women in the early church. In her classes, she encouraged us to look beyond the power and politics of the biblical cannon and use a hermeneutic of imagination to explore the lives and voices of minor figures in the Bible.

Because of Elisabeth’s influence in my own faith journey- if I could meet anyone from the bible- I would probably choose someone who isn’t even named. In fact, I’d choose more than one…

I would spend a day with a collective of biblical women to learn more about their dreams, their visions, their convictions, and their role in shaping the movement of Jesus Christ. Most of these women are unnamed, but I imagine if I first began speaking with Mary and Martha… soon, I would begin to meet other women who were fed in the crowd of 5,000 in Luke 9, then, I might meet some women who were part of the 72 disciples sent out to teach and preach in Luke 10… I would want to spend my day hearing the untold stories, the voices of women without political power and yet filled with spiritual wisdom and depth.

Who would you want to meet? #ShapedByGod

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