Back to Church

Back to Church

+Psalm 91:14-16 As for all people: I will protect them. When they call to me, I will answer them. I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them, with long life I will satisfy them, and show them glory…

Today we open the doors wide at church to welcome everyone. Anyone. We re-commit to God’s call on our hearts: seek the broken, the weary, the lost, the hurting, the struggling… in other words: reach out to your neighbors. We call this “Back to Church” Sunday, but it’s more than this.

Today, we all begin the journey of finding our way back home. We turn back to grace. We commit once again to lives of mercy and compassion. We remember to honor the light and the goodness in everyone we meet.

We will come back to worship today, but more than an hour of singing and studying, today we all need to come back to the basics of following Christ: living for justice, embracing the destitute, loving one another well.

Creator and Sustainer of all, you know this:

Like the prodigal son, we wander.

When the world opens up before us, we chase dreams and ambitions.

In our darkest hours, we draw back and close in.

Like the prodigal son, we wander.

Loving God, you beckon us from far away. You call us. You welcome us home.

On this “Back to Church” Sunday, we come because the doors were opened to us- may we go and do likewise.

We worship today because the Holy Spirit draws us in- may we also let the Holy Spirit send out to serve.

We praise You and honor You, God, because deep within each of us, you planted a spark of divine curiosity and faithfulness. Today, let us remember to honor this spark in our neighbors, our enemies, strangers, those we call ‘others,’ and those we tend to ignore.

This morning, may the spark of the holy in each of us rise up, awaken and shine. And may we all have eyes to see other wanderers who need a place of refuge- help us be that refuge.

Compassionate God, transform us into Your light, Your hope, and Your Good News. Amen.

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Skin

skin

+ Psalm 25:1-3
In you, LORD my God,
I put my trust.
I trust in you;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame…

“You need thicker skin.” One of my mentors said this to me during a recent coaching session. And it’s true. This has always been true.

One summer, my family traveled to Florida on vacation. We stayed at a hotel with a piano in the lobby. In the evenings, a man played old show tunes and pretty folk songs for the guests. I recently completed my second year of basic piano lessons. So one night, I tapped on the shoulder of this lobby pianist and bragged: “I know how to play piano, too.” He smiled at me, slid off the piano bench and invited me to play what I learned.
As I sat down, I realized that my two years of piano really meant that I knew how to play through scales and major chords… but I didn’t know a single song. I played one Major C chord, and then I quickly left the piano bench, head held high.

But, my ‘thin skin’ tattled on me immediately. My cheeks turned deep shades of pink and crimson- showing the world that I was affected and embarrassed by my Major C chord.

I needed thicker skin then, and still– I could use a few more layers.

I like to present a strong, confident front. I enjoy polishing my words and calculating my actions. I do this, because I love to receive positive feedback and I sometimes feel a pinch with constructive criticism.

In a world where we are all encouraged to protect our image and shape our appearance to ‘fit-in”- skin often betrays us. Whether it’s blushing cheeks, or we break out in hives that reveal our stress, or we find a pimple the morning of our wedding, or we develop wrinkles that show our wear-and-tear through this life… skin can expose us.

Tonight, I’m reflecting on SKIN as a spiritual roadblock and also a spiritual vessel. Jesus spent energy and ministry on those whose skin betrayed them.

Christ’s entire ministry touched those who were broken. The recipients of Christ’s healing faced a variety of challenges. But I always remember his interactions with the Lepers- those who were cast to the margins specifically because their skin ‘tattled on them’.

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that results in painful lesions on the arms and legs and face… this particular form of brokenness could be seen, observed, and scorned- because it was a disease present in the skin.

On more than one occasion- Jesus heals Lepers. In healing their skin, Jesus offers them a new purpose, a renewed opportunity to be confident, whole, and accepted.

Through faith in Christ, even lepers found strength to overcome the tender vulnerability of skin that reveals hurt and insecurity.

As I continue to pray through the psalms this summer, I’m lingering in Psalm 25- words that promise God’s strength and protection to our spirits. Casting aside blushing cheeks and bruised pride- God empowers us. We will never be put to shame, or insecurity, or vulnerability that cannot be overcome- because God gives us strength.

Christ carried out this promise among those with the thinnest, most damaged skin of all.

And so- for all of us who could use healing and power through thicker skin and deeper faith, we turn the gospel, and to the empowering words of Psalm 25… let us repeat these prophetic words: In You, Lord, my God, I put my trust…

Showing Up

Nana

+ Psalm 139:7-10 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

I’m told she was waiting on our front porch the day my parents brought me home for the first time. Arms wide open, heart filled with love for me even before we ever met. That was my Nana.

Pictures from my 2nd birthday show Nana bringing me a cake she baked for the party. It was a Barbie cake: a beautiful blond doll wearing a ballgown and her entire skirt was the birthday cake. Nana loved to go over-the-top for her family.

I remember signing my ballet recital program for Nana when she asked for an autograph after my brilliant performance as a flower at age 5.

She always seemed to cheer the loudest from the stands of my brother’s sporting adventures- even though I promise- she didn’t even know what a touchdown looked like.

Nana would take me on a ‘dog day’ once in a while- where we would go shopping for whatever I wanted- new toys, or later clothes- then, we would eat out at a restaurant that I chose- just the two of us. After this, we would catch a movie or indulge in a decadent dessert. From start to finish- the day was mine to create and design. She spoiled me rotten on these dog days.

Nana offered me wise advice and a compassionate hug the day of my high school graduation, my college graduation, my grad school graduation, my wedding day, and my ordination day. Whenever a big moment arrived in my life- Nana showed up.

You would think she simply drove across town for these events- but instead, we always lived nearly 2,000 miles apart. Distance meant nothing to her. She made me feel like she treasured every step of my life- and looking back, I believe she really did. The miles never prevented her from arriving just in time to cheer me on and nudge me forward. Nana always showed up.

This afternoon, my mom travels from Memphis TN, to Cupertino, California to show up for Nana one last time. Hospice says it will be days, maybe hours. Nana’s breathing is labored and her eyes are distant. My aunt wrote an update to the family about the plan to keep vigil with Nana, saying: “Kate arrives at 6pm, and she and I will stay bedside each night with Nana so she won’t be alone at all. After all, this is the Nana who was with each of us for every big event. She won’t go alone.”

As Nana waits at the doors between this world and the next, my mind races through all our shared memories- all the times Nana showed up for me and encouraged me on this wild and unpredictable life. I realize, now, as I grieve, that it is always excruciating to lose someone you love. Whether you expect it or not, whether they are old or young, whether you wait for the final breath or you are surprised by their sudden departure… grief is real and raw and difficult every time.

I think it’s because, relatively speaking, we have very few people who are truly in our corner. Out of the 7 billion people on this planet- really- each of us is lucky to have a handful of them who would be willing to show up for us, to bear witness to our little lives in this vast world. And when you lose one of your witnesses- one of your cheerleaders- one of your people- the loss pierces your heart.

I love Psalm 139. If you’ve ever felt the comfort of someone who shows up for you- then the words of the Psalmist in 139 are tangible and beautiful. Tonight, or another night soon, I will lose one of the people who showed up for me over the past 30 years. And I will grieve this loss. But Psalm 139 reminds me that some things are eternal, and deep, and wide, and all encompassing. Nana will soon be a part of this divine, transcendent presence we call The Holy- and I find peace in that.

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

bad day

+ Psalm 3:3-5 But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and God answers me from the holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

I used to love that childhood tale of Alexander and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. In the midst of happy endings and beautiful resolutions- some days I just needed the space to acknowledge that all days were not created equally- and a bad one pops up here and there.

Fast forward to 30 years old: I am still grateful to Alexander and this story- but for different reasons.

My day consisted a series of minor wrong turns: a conversation misunderstood, an unexpected reaction from a friend, a growing Tower of Babel in email threads, topped off with a bad ordering choice at lunch- and soon, I was the hungry, cranky, frustrated little kid crossing my arms and frowning in plaid pajamas…

This beautiful children’s book starts out:

I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…

I imagine him stomping around, scowling at everyone, and compounding his own bad luck with a bad attitude. Alexander goes on to describe the final offenses of this long, bad day: lima beans for dinner and kissing on TV!

I laugh now when I revisit this. I’m grateful for this story because of what it mirrors to all of us when we find ourselves in a slump. Of course, from a grown-up lens, Alexander created this misery himself. He took the wrong perspective. He assumed the world was against him. And we adults can do this too. We experience conflict in our community. We get into an argument or a fight with someone else. We start to believe that we are operating at a deficit, or that we were dealt the short end of the stick- and we begin to see the world this way (at least for a day).

But as people of faith- shouldn’t we have more trust in the blessings of each passing moment, and the promise in every new day? The Psalmist uses beautiful language in Psalm 3 to tear down the walls of a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day: God you are my shield… you lift my head high…

When I find myself experiencing one of those bad days- I can change the day through a change of perspective. What was misunderstood can be handled with grace and forgiveness. What was miscommunicated can be fixed through openness and trust. What was wrong can soon become right if I allow myself to believe: God shields me, God lifts my head high, and all will be well.

Looking to tomorrow: whether we wake up on the wrong side of the bed or the right one, let us remember that each day is a gift, an opportunity, and a promise.

Where we meet adversity, we can bring renewal. When we experience conflict, we are empowered to ask transforming questions:

How can we build trust where it was broken?
How can we build unity where there was tension?
How do we heal where there was hurt?
How can we turn this day around, moving forward to wholeness, to amends, to understanding?

God is our shield. God holds our head high. So we can make all the difference in a day.

Into Thy Hands…

+ Psalm 31:5 Into thy hands I commend my spirit: God has redeemed me, O Lord, the God of truth.

I heard this scripture in a new way this afternoon.

Cars crowded the street and blocked the driveway to her home today. I showed up 2 hours after she died. The funeral director waited patiently on the couch. The family gently washed her body and dressed her up in a favorite outfit for her grand exit. She had made it very clear: “I will leave this house feet first”. And she did. Twenty minutes after I arrived this strong, prophetic, beautiful woman left her house for the last time- feet first.

After months of pastoral visits and prayers, her family and I said goodbye to this legendary person today.

In ministry- it is both a privilege and a responsibility to witness these grand entrances and grand exits. Ministers stand at the doorway as new babies transform families. We stand at the altar as couples cross the threshold of marriage. We hold open the screen door as people make their final exit- feet first- from a home they’ve lived in for decades.

Jesus uttered these words from the cross: Into thy hands I commend my spirit… but these were not his thoughts or his reflection. He quoted ancient scripture from the Hebrew Bible on his last breath. He said these words aloud and yet I believe that every one of us says these words deep in our bones the minute we decide to let go, and meet the eternal. I heard them in a new way today.

In the moments after she made her final exit, I felt peace fill her home. We all felt peace. It was time for her to leave. Her body, her bones, and her heart had offered permission: into thy hands… faithful God…

Yes, I heard these holy words from the Psalmist in a new way this afternoon- I heard them through the walls of a beloved home as the matriarch of the family exited. I heard these words through the silence after her final breath. I heard these words through the memories her family recalled about her life well lived. It was time for her to go. She gave permission after a life well lived. Into thy hands… may it be so. Amen.

Who Are We?

Lindenwood 2

+ Psalm 1:1-3 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the lost, or take the path that the broken tread, or sit in the seat of doubters; but their delight is in the vision of the Lord, and on God’s vision they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by the streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all they do, they prosper.

The Lindenwood vision team met last night. Eight faithful people will pray, and listen, and wait for a clear image to emerge as we look to our future. Who are we? Where are we called to speak up? How are we called to serve? Why do we continue to assemble as a church?

Lindenwood sits on the busy street corner of Union Avenue and East Parkway in midtown Memphis. Thousands of people drive by our sanctuary every morning and every night.

Across the street from our building, Memphis Theological Seminary Students explore theological ideas.

Around the corner from our facility- families ride their bikes, grill out on sunny afternoons, and walk their dogs through our grounds.

We minister in a city with increasing illiteracy and obesity. We engage a community with deep divisive history and rich stories of civil rights.

We belong to a denomination that seeks wholeness in a fractured world. We maintain a tradition of no creed but Christ, no gospel but love, and no purpose but to serve.

In our chairs and pews each Sunday, we preach to those who have never been to church, who grew up in church, who left church, who despised church, who felt hurt by church and who continue to stand at the doors of the church.

In our church family- we worship with those who are single, married, parents, divorced, recovering, broken, old, young, rich, poor, healthy and sick.

In this vast context- who are we?

Lark News posted a funny satire about a new church for Jerks this week. The piece says:

Walk into Mark Hanson’s church and nobody will greet you. The guys hanging around the foyer might even make fun of what you’re wearing, or your haircut. A sign over the entrance reads, “Grab a seat in the back and shut up. Nobody cares what you think.” Welcome to Jerk Church. “You know these guys,” says Hanson, the pastor and founder. “They sit with their arms folded the whole time, leave during the altar call, criticize the pastor, snort when other people state their opinions and never create lasting bonds of friendship. Their wives are always really stressed. Bingo — that’s my mission field.”

This is not Lindenwood Christian Church.

I remember my final interview with the Lindenwood search team three years ago this month. After 2 hours of questions and inquiries, the search committee chair invited me to ask questions. I asked that each search team member tell me what they loved about Lindenwood. As they went around the circle, each of the 12 team members described the way that Lindenwood welcomed them. Some came from other traditions. Others came for refuge. Many came with doubts. A few came with curiosity. But every person in the room described a feeling of belonging at Lindenwood. This church was home.

Who are we at Lindenwood Christian Church?

In this time of discernment, we are clarifying our mission: What is God calling this church to do and be?

We are defining our vision: what does it look like to be involved in our mission?

We are naming our core values: what drives us toward our vision?

And we are jumpstarting our ministries: what actions will we take to fulfill our mission?

We believe that Mission + (Core Values -> Vision) = Ministries.

But how do we take on this process? How do we find our perfect ministry equation at Lindenwood Christian Church?

Psalm 1 hints at a process for discovering this vision:
Do not follow the lost: we cannot take our cues from recent trends or temporary investments.
Do not take the path that the broken tread: we cannot model our future based on our past- it hasn’t worked.
Do not sit in the seat of doubters: we cannot make decisions based on those who question, pick apart, or denigrate our new ideas.
Meditate on the vision of the Lord: we must pray our way into a new future.

If we take the wisdom of the Psalmist to heart- we will grow and even bloom like a sturdy tree next to an endless stream of blessings. May it be so.

The Storm

Storm

+ Psalm 107:29 God calmed the storm to a whisper…

I looked around my church today and I noticed: everyone looked rested.

Everyone looked dry.

Everyone looked like they slept in a bed, under a roof, in a temperature controlled home and yet- hundreds of Oklahoma residents huddled in shelters, basements, and gymnasiums waiting for the storms to pass.

I didn’t need to say it out loud- we already know: these Oklahoma refugees are our neighbors. These are our brothers and sisters.

As we worshiped, warm in our own sanctuary, joyfully singing hymns of praise and diligently praying prayers for mercy, hope and redemption- I think we all realize it us up to us to tell the good news to those who suffer.

Our Lindenwood High School youth leave for Bethany Hills camp today. On this same week where they will sit around camp fires and giggle in bunk beds- they will bring the good news of transformation to their Oklahoma neighbors by putting together Clean Up kits to send to tornado ally during their free time.

This week at Lindenwood, we will also be Working with Week of Compassion to put together Clean Up Kits for our neighbors, our brothers and sisters in Oklahoma.

But there’s more to do.

If we believe that God can draw order out of chaos, if we believe the Psalmist who wrote that God calmed the storm to a whisper;, then we must proclaim this word of hope boldly, with courage and conviction.

We come to church week after week to remember our commissioning. Let us remember that we are called to restore hope, whisper good news, and speak God’s truth to all those who need an image of redemption.

Loving God, we believe in your good news. We believe in your power and your presence among us.
There are those who watched their homes become a pile of splintered wood and garbage this week. There are those who watched communities become wastelands and civilization crumble to ruins in Oklahoma.
In the face of this tragedy and every tragedy- sometimes it seems like the light of Your hope grows dim.
Gracious God, we have read your holy scriptures and we believe the Psalmist when she wrote that You stilled the storm to a whisper…
Help us to proclaim your good news once more to all the broken corners of this world. Empower us to reveal your Gospel to those who are covered with a shadow of doubt. Empower us to be your good news through acts of compassion, generosity, and leadership.
Commission us so that we can be your hands and your feet. In the name of the compassionate Christ, amen.

To Wait

ballet
+ Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
+Psalm 37:7 Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for God…
+Psalm 40:1 I waited patiently for the Lord; God inclined to me and heard my cry…
+Psalm 62:1 For God alone my soul waits in silence…
+Psalm 69:3 I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God…
+Psalm 130:6 my soul waits for the Lord- more than those who watch for the morning…
+ Psalm 104:27 All creatures wait for You To give them their food in due season…

Today, I needed a good word on waiting.

I spent yesterday afternoon in the bedroom of a beautiful, bold woman waiting to pass on. Her family gathered by her side. We watched every breath she took. We saw her chest fill with air and exhale as we waited and wondered: when would be her last? When will eternal peace come? When will we be forced to say goodbye?

On the other end of the spectrum, two people we love are waiting for their first child to be born. Every day- a new sense of longing and wonder: when will we all meet this new little person? When will this new life begin?

Waiting can be a spiritual practice. We must have faith in God’s vision and wisdom when we wait.

This business of waiting challenges me and follows me in my ministry every day. But, in the spirit of confession- I must admit: I am not a patient person. This is not a new development. I was born with impatience.

I remember the first time I was told to wait. All dressed up in our tutus, me and the other tiny ballerinas would stand back stage- ready to twirl and leap in front of our audience for our ballet recital. At each downbeat of the music- I would try to move forward-out into the spotlight- but Miss Catherine would hold my shoulder and whisper ‘wait… wait…” until it was our time to dance.

And this scene still plays out today. Don’t you know the feeling of waiting in the wings- longing to leap out ahead into this exciting world of possibilities and opportunities and adventure- only to feel that slight tug on your shoulder saying ‘wait… wait…’

Waiting, praying, listening, and waiting some more: this is the refrain of the ministerial life.

We wait with those we love as the spirit calls them home. We wait with those who anticipate new birth, new life.

We wait with our congregations as we ask the question: what is our future vision, what is our future mission?

We wait with our community to see: who are we meant to invite, to shepherd, to welcome?

Most of all: faith calls us to wait for God’s intervention and intentions to be revealed. We do not do ministry alone. We do not set our own ministry agenda, or plan, or direction, instead, we trust in the Holy Spirit to do this work. But waiting for God’s voice can be challenging- especially for those of us born without patience.

The Psalmists knew something about the agony of waiting. As I thumbed through a Bible concordance looking for the Psalmists words on waiting- I felt like they were telling my story: a parched throat, a hunger, eyes growing dim… this is the story of waiting.

Much like those little ballerina’s behind the curtain, we must all wait for the moment when God will whisper: “Go-now it’s your time to dance.”

Memorial Table

+ Psalm 46: 9-10 God makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. The Lord breaks the bow and shatters the spear; God burns the shields with fire. The Lord says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

On this Memorial Day, I’m thinking a lot about the communion table. In our tradition, we come to this table every single week. In many ways, this table is a Memorial Table.

Jesus brought his disciples to this table to give them a ritual of remembrance after he was gone. Today, we come to the table to remember what was lost, to grieve all that is broken, and to cling to what is eternal.

The communion table is meant to be shared.

This weekend, let us remember that we share this table with kids who have lost parents at war. We share this table with husbands and wives who became widows and widowers when their soldier-spouses deployed. We share this table with mothers and fathers who have wept as Mary wept- at the tombs of their children. We share this table with the nations of the world who continue to long for peace, but instead, live in combat. We share this Memorial Table with Christ, and all those who have died in sacrifice, all those who have died preserving justice, safety, freedom, and virtue.

Even if you do not practice weekly communion, chances are, you will come to a table today to break bread with someone you love. So, on this Memorial Day, as we all sit at a table of abundance, let us honor those who have come before us to serve. Let us come to the table to grieve those we have lost in this broken world, and let us all come to the table today to hold tightly to that which is eternal: our love, our hope, and a promise that one day, wars will cease to the ends of the earth.

God of every generation and every nation- we come to you in prayer through silence and remembrance today. Long ago, the Psalms proclaimed that You would make wars cease to the ends of the earth. History tells us that we have not lived into your vision for us. Instead, we live in a world where we must still fight for justice and freedom for our neighbors. Today we pause to remember all we have lost in this age-old fight. We mourn. We ache for the young and old who have died in service. Scripture tells us that You break the bow and shatter the spear, you burn shields with fire. Give us the courage to surrender to Your peace that passes all understanding. Give us faith to trust in Your intervention. You call us to be still- but instead, we continue to march forward into war after war after rumor of war. As we pause to recall all that we have lost on this Memorial Day- whisper Your vision of stillness to us once more. May we all have ears to hear it. Amen.

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