Sunday, September 25, 2011


This life of faith is not an easy one is it?  the readings from today remind us with no holds bared that we are to live a life that models that of our savior.  

a life of integrity.

a life of sacrifice.  

a life of humility.

a life of righteousness.

in today’s parable a dad says, “go work.”  the first son says, “no way, Jose”, but then goes.  good that he went, but bad that it was not when he was called.

the second son says he will and then he doesn’t.  um, that honoring your father thing?  i think he missed it.

these days i tend to act more like the second son, “yea, sure God, I will go...I will feed...I will clothe...I will heal...but first let me....write this sermon, say this prayer, check my facebook....oohh gee...darn...too late now God...someone else already did it.  Guess you really didn’t need me after all.”

does that sound familiar at all?

as i say that i have to be honest and share that the reality is i am more like the first son.  i stand here today because God called me from a place of darkness, of brokenness, of sin, of pain the result of my own choices.  much like the tax collectors and prostitutes i was an outsider.  one of the lost.  i was too busy living my life on my terms, in my time...God...pfft...there was no room for God.  

before i entered a church i knew i had to get cleaned up, put my life together, get rid of the piercings, and buy the right clothes.  and if i did get there?  i knew i wouldn’t be accepted.  see i used colorful language, didn’t know all those songs all y’all learned at camp, my family wrote the textbook series on dysfunction...oh and i smoked and drank...i’d been divorced and had heard the bible didn’t allow that either.

the few funerals and weddings I'd been to in churches showed me the pews were filled with a whole bunch of hypocrites too.  when i would go i would see these people that i knew outside those doors were not very nice.  

even in my ignorance i didn’t think the whole God thing was like a drive through car wash...come in, get cleaned up, and go back out and get dirty the minute you leave.  so i thought i had to wait until i got it all together so i could fit in better.  

then i met sandy.  she had this was hard to put my finger on it...but she had it.  her life was not an easy one.  she had a major medical condition that caused her constant pain.  her 16 year old daughter got pregnant.  her husband had strayed a few times and they fought some times when i visited.  her job was always in danger of ending due to budget cuts.  

yet in spite of all of that, she always had a sense of peace about her.  a joy that came from way down deep.  from a place i didn’t even think i had.  i spent months just talking with her.  when we would pass in the halls at work, hours would pass before i realized it.  i just like being around her, listening to her, learning from her.

after yet another disastrous life choice i had hit my bottom.  i was tired.  i was lonely.  i was afraid.  i was hurting.  and so i asked sandy how she got that thing she had...that peace...that joy...that thing.

and you know what she said?  she said i could have it too.  she didn’t own it.  it came from God.  there came that pfft thing could what she have be a God thing?  it was a sandy thing.  in spite of wanting to walk away i felt like my shoes where nailed to the floor.  i couldn’t have left if i wanted to.

sandy then shared her story with me.  i won’t share it with you today, because it is hers to tell.  but i will share that it was a sad story filled with more pain than a person should have to endure in ten lifetimes.   she said she spent many years angry and hurt.  she had left home trying to run away from the pain and herself.  as she was sitting in a bus station an older gentleman gave her a book.  a book he turned to a page.  on that page were these words:

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

she shared that somehow those words went to her very heart and changed everything for her.  she was tired of her anger and her pain.  she also realized that her worth was nothing without God and that putting others first did not have to make her a doormat.  she had run away and found home.  let God catch up to her.

that thing she had?  she said it was her working out her salvation with fear and trembling.  but not in the way i thought.  the fear and trembling had more to do with going to the throne of God and being so overcome by his love that she was in awe.  it was that kind of fear and trembling.  i wanted that kind of fear in my life.

i asked what i had to do to have that thing she had.  she told me i already had it.  it was God.  all i had to do was say yes to God.  much like my shadow, God was right there.  i just had to say yes.  

i told her i was too messed up to go to church...she said it was less about church and more about God.  she then told me this parable about these two sons....

she shared that she had i had been, like that son.  she then told me other stories.  stories about some pretty messed up people.  people like...

this couple in a garden that did what they weren’t supposed to...

this guy who cheated his brother out of his inheritance...

this guy who wandered with a bunch of people in the desert...

this king who killed a man so he could have his wife...

this guy with really long hair....

this guy who persecuted Christians....

this guy who betrayed Jesus...

these people that didn’t belong in church when they started either.  yet as they said yes to God, over time, they found they did belong, just as I belonged.  as you belong.  some of them even came to the point that they believed God loved them.

we are called to live lives of integrity, of sacrifice, of humility, of righteousness.  but we are not called to live them on our own merits or due to our own efforts.  

we are called into a community.  a community that allows us to come to the throne of God in fear and trembling and take on the mantle of Christ.  a community that we can enter with all our yuck.  we are accepted not because we are perfect, but because God loves us.  the only requirement is that we say yes.  we don’t have to worry about how we talk, what we wear, or even the color of our hair.

that mantle we take on will give us the ability to see Christ in us as we begin to see Christ in them.

i still have trouble believing i belong language has gotten better, sometimes i dress right, yet now i have a tattoo...

and yet....

Jesus loves me this I know....

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pinwheels for Peace Diva Tangle Challenge #40

Flows like a river
is seen like a dove
that comes from above

Makes me quiver
as I seek it 'round me
in a world full of cacophony
so hard to find
even in my mind

News so unnerving
times so sad
in this world gone mad

Thinking we are undeserving
of its place in our lives
its touch on our hearts

We believe the lies
saying it is a fairy tale
yet all the while we find it

In a smile
a pile of leaves
a baby's sneeze
a lover's squeeze
and mostly at the Father's knees

Monday, September 12, 2011

Challenge #39

On that September morn
As planes crashed
And buildings fell
I held my child close
Afraid of what came next
I fell to my knees

In the dust of ashes
Heroes arose
Burning stairs climbed
Adrenaline enabling amazing feats
Each rescue a reminder of hope

Life went on
War began
Heroes and their loved ones forgotten by most
God left in the dust

Heroes and God not needed
As drive and greed
Became the seed
That covered the fear

That May eve
The news came
Senseless violence embodied by one
Met with an end
And I on my knees again

Ten years later
Heroes are remembered
War rages on
Children grow up without parents
Taken too soon
And I on my knees again

Knowing that I want love to win
But wondering how it can happen
When God is not mentioned again
Looking for the lion and the lamb
And the heavenly chorus of amen

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

In other translations Jesus responded 7 times 70 or even 770 times.  In any translation, does that mean the next time my heart is broken I need not forgive?  I don’t think so.

And yet…

How do you forgive a child who keeps hurting you with harsh words and tantrums?  Slamming doors?  The refrain of “I hate you!”

How do you forgive a spouse who keeps turning from you in the night?  Who no longer sees your tears?  Who misses dinner more often than not?

How do you forgive a brother or sister who forgets your birthday yet again?  Who calls but doesn’t ask how you are doing?  Who never stops by just for a cup of coffee?

How do you forgive a church that has taught you the need to earn your way into heaven?  Who was not there in the middle of your pain?  Who forgot you by the time the flowers on your mother’s grave died?

How do you forgive when the house you worked so hard to build is picked up and dropped down in pieces by the wind?

How do you forgive the faceless evil that sent planes into towers, buildings, and fields killing thousands and leaving too many widows and orphans?

Unforgiveness becomes like small stone in your shoe.  You know it is there, it can be irritating, yet in time, it becomes familiar.  The time that it would take to stop, to bend over or sit down, untie your shoe, take it off, and dump the stone out too much work to hassle with.  It is easier to keep on walking, to worry the stone with your toes, to complain about it to a friend or stranger.  It somehow begins to belong there.  Its presence comfortable after time.

We hear a parable today about a king preparing to settle his accounts.  The one who owed the most falls on his knees, begs the king, and is forgiven his debt.  We are not talking just a few dollars here, but ten thousand talents.  Each talent close to 130 lbs which was used to measure gold and silver.  Equal to about 15 years of wages for a worker in those days.  So this man owes the king about 150,000 years worth of income or 3,000 financial life sentences.

Even so this man’s immense debt is forgiven and he goes on his way.  As this now free man is walking down the road, he sees the friend who owes him a hundred denarii.  Now while this is no small debt, he has just been forgiven 150,000 years of income.  His friend owes him 100 silver coins equal to the daily wage of a worker.  So while significant, it cannot compare to the debt he has just been forgiven.  Yet, he shows no mercy.  He has his friend thrown into prison where he will never earn the money to pay his debt. 

Others tell the king and this leads to his debt being remembered and the king torturing him until the debt is forgiven.   In others words, probably forever.  

Jesus says, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

So again, this has nothing to do with the number of times.  Forgiveness from God is both extravagant and precious.  In this parable we are shown forgiveness in the extreme and shown it as being far more precious that the wages of sin. 

Yet we are broken and we often don’t mind stones in our shoes.  They are so much friendlier than that uncomfortable place of taking them out and giving them to God.  It is so much easier to blame others or unforeseen forces or even God for the stones in our shoes.  

In giving them to God we struggle with our emotions.  We would rather build an altar out of our stones and worship them.  We would rather keep them than hand them over. 

That one there?  That is when my brother hurt my feelings.

That one?  It is the time my wife forgot to pick up my dry cleaning.

That one?

That one?

And that?

And that?

God teaches us over time that those stones in our shoes are more like cement blocks.  Holding us down.  Making life heavy.  We learn that forgiveness is not a onetime thing but an ongoing process.  Not an emotion, but rather an act of will.  An act of the will that involves us granting and accepting forgiveness.  Being bold enough to dump the stones out and try new ways of being with others.

Forgiveness is not about allowing us to become doormats or the object of another’s abuse or wrong actions.  It is instead seeing ourselves as beautiful children of God, worthy of receiving unconditional love and becoming free enough to shower others in that same unconditional love.  Of taking those stones that should cause us to sink and allowing God to turn them into diamonds that reflect the rainbow of God’s love for us even in our imperfect, broken state.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pair a dux

This week's challenge is "Better than a Pair of Ducks" as the Diva thinks "pair of ducks" when she hears "paradox" and is found here: Weekly Challenge 38

It was suggested by the co-founder of Zentangle, Maria Thomas and based on the 'tangle "Paradox."

I played with it quite a bit but felt a need to actually play with the shape of a duck.  This is the bunny (or ducky) trail I went down.

This was a little too busy but more fun that my first efforts.

These were my first efforts and left me wanting a warm bath with my rubber ducky.

Again, like grids, this 'tangle may have to grow on me.  I've learned I like more fluid 'tangles.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Time of Blessing

On a brisk spring Saturday morning outside the small country church folks stand in groups talking.  There is a buzz as the younger children chase one another, the women catch up with one another, and the men talk about the recent crop planting. 

The young pastor arrives looking harried and worn.  As he leaves his vehicle he is tucking in his shirt tail, struggling to hold on to his Bible.  As he arrives at the steps of the church the folks gathered begin to form a half circle in front of him.

In a wavering voice he asks if all are present while his gaze travels over the group assembled.  He has never done this and wonders how often he will need to with this new community of faith he has been called to.  Heads nod yes, his deacon gives voice to the attendance.

The pastor opens his Bible and reads,
“Jesus said, "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

After he finishes reading he asks all those present if they have attempted to go to the one causing sin.  There is a chorus of “yes pastor.”
He then asks if each one present has gone in pairs to speak with the offenders.  The reply is again yes.

He then asks the crowd why they are gathered here.  A spokeswoman for the group moves forward and says,

“Pastor, each spring we tell our men folk that planting baccy be against the teachings of the church.  Yet each spring they do it again.  We stand here today telling you they have sinned.”

The woman moves back into the half circle.   

The pastor asks the group if the woman’s statements are true.  There is a solid refrain of “yes pastor.”

The pastor asks all those who have planted tobacco to step forward.  Most of the men present do so.  He then asks if the woman’s allegations are true.  As one the men respond, “Yes pastor.”

The pastor, his voice shaky, says, “Each of you leaves me no choice.  You are excommunicated from this church.  Until you are willing to admit your wrongs and return to a state of grace you may not enter these doors.”
The men respond, “Yes pastor.”

A woman present then asks the young man to bless their food so they may enjoy their picnic.

Fast forward to a fall morning a few months later.  The same group stands before the pastor.  He asks the purpose of their gathering.  The same woman moves to the front and says, “Pastor our men have changed their ways.  We would like you to restore them to the church.”

The pastor asks if this is indeed true.  A man steps forward and says, “Pastor, the baccy be no longer in our fields and we would be beholden to ya, if ya let us back in the church.”

The pastor then says, “Based on scripture, you are restored to this church.”

A young girl then asks the pastor to bless the food for their picnic.

Somehow I don’t think this scene if one in which Jesus would take much delight.  In real estate we talk about location, in scripture we reference context.  This incident takes the words of today’s gospel and pulls them out of a portion of Matthew rich in meaning and depth. 
What we don’t read today is that right before this portion Jesus reminds his hearers not to lead others into sin and then talks about the shepherd who leaves the ninety nine to go find the one lost.  Next week we will hear him be asked how many times one must forgive. 

My guess is this little country church, as we often do, has taken these words and made them into rules with no heart.  That these tobacco farmers and their families did this every year at planting and harvest times.  And, sadly, yes it is based on a true story.

Our call is to not take these words as rules without heart, but rather to live into them in the spirit with which they were meant.  They are meant as words of love, of grace, of compassion.  They would sound more like, “My beloved, you have done things that have caused great pain to me, to us.  Yet we love you dearly and we want to be restored to unity with you.  There is a hole without you among us.  Will you please return with me to the body of Christ?  You are so missed.  It is not the same without you with us.  Will you walk with me?”

In our tradition we have a way of doing this that often is glossed over.  We do it each time we gather for worship.  It comes after we hear and respond to the word of God and just before we break bread together. 

That’s right; it is our exchange of the peace.  In the early church it was meant as a time to have true reconciliation.  It was intended as a chance to reach out to those with who we may be in conflict.  It was a sign of forgiveness and a promise of reconciliation.   

Sadly, we mostly have forgotten that.  I myself am guilty using that time to greet others, to catch up on news, and even the occasional sports score.  I have also been guilty of hugging another and saying, “Peace,” while holding hardness in my heart.  That is also not what our church fathers and mothers meant for this time to be.  Nor what we should do with this time.

So, today, may we move to this time with open hearts and open minds.  May we remember that even if there is no conflict present, that this is a time to offer blessing to one another.  After we confess our sins to God in Christ as a gathered body, may we offer the benefit and blessing of this part of our liturgy to one another.

We need not do so with every person, but rather, go to those to whom you feel the Spirit leading you.  It  may be the beginning of true healing and love in this place.  It may also be a time where the Spirit leads us to a time of joy, hugs, and tears as we great one another in a spirit of love and understanding.

Whatever it may be, let it be unscripted and led by the love of God in Christ as we gather as this part of his body.