Saturday, February 27, 2016

Lent 3C

The Third Sunday in Lent Year C February 28, 2016 I’ve been thinking a great deal about idolatry lately. It started last week, with several things coinciding. The first was our session #2 of the Crazy Christian series by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry that we are discussing on Sunday mornings in adult formation. In the session two video titled “It’s easy and It’s hard,” Curry continues his talk on following Jesus by telling the story of when the children of Israel create the Golden Calf in the wilderness, making an idol for themselves to worship when Moses has been away for too long communing with God and they become anxious in his absence. Curry says that “an idol is a god created in my image to serve my self-centered purpose—a quick fix, an easy solution instead of the hard, important work of following the way of God into the life of a new humanity. An idol is anything that substitutes for God and idolatry is what leads to social injustice because it’s the world built around me, not built and ordered the way God would dream and intend for it to be.” Then I went to hear a lecture at Millsaps about a group of 28 Methodist ministers who published a statement right after the riots at Ole Miss in the early 60’s that challenged the status quo of segregation in the United Methodist church. Of the 28 pastors, only 8 remained in Mississippi in ministry. My grandfather, N.A. Dickson, was one of those 8. The speaker, Joe Reiff, who has written a book on this Born of Conviction statement and the events that preceded and followed it in the white Methodist church in that time, said in his lecture that in that time and place, maintaining the white life-style (through separate but equal) became an idol for most people in that church. So I’ve been pondering how and what I make an idol in my own life. What sorts of ways and things do I use to create god in my own self-interested image to serve my own purpose? And I’ve been thinking about the ways that different groups—families, churches, the people of a state or a nation—also create and work to preserve their own idols. In our epistle reading for today, Paul is writing to the Corinthians about the challenges of engaging in the life of the culture around us and how that often can lead to idolatry. In chapters 8 Paul writes to address the Corinthian position that attendance at the local idol cults are not incompatible with being in Christ. Paul expresses concern for the whole community, and he writes about how this practice has created confusion and division in the life of the community. And he culminates in today’s passage where he harkens back to the story of the Israelites in the wilderness, how they are saved by God and brought through the Red Sea but they fall into the practice of idolatry. He reminds the Corinthians of the heart of the good news: “God is faithful” and concludes with a line that is left out of our reading for today: “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.” In my own ponderings and examinations this week, I have discovered that it is much easier for me to identify idols in culture or systems (such as church, state, or nation) than it is for me to identify idols in my own life. But what is important for us to remember is that we make idols when we are insecure, afraid, restless and searching for answers. Just like the children of Israel in the wilderness, who create their idol because Moses is gone and they become anxious, we make our idols to preserve a sense of control. We make our idols when we forget to remember the most important aspect of good news that Jesus came and revealed (and continues to reveal): that God is faithful. Part of the call to repentance this Lent could very well be examining all areas of our lives, looking in the dark corners where we have set up the idols that we worship in place of God, idols that we create and control, that do our own will and give us a false sense of security. What do those look like in your own life? Is it money or success? Is it academic achievement? Is it a solid 401k for retirement? Is it how your house compares to your neighbor’s or what kind of vacation you will take? Is it your children’s sporting events? Is it your college football team? Is it your family or circle of friends? Is it “the way we’ve always done things?” Do you make an idol of the past? Or how about future possibilities? Take some time this week and look into those dark corners of your lives where your idols dwell. Shine the light on them, and then lay them before the True and Living God who is revealed in Jesus Christ as a part of your Lenten repentance. “Therefore, my friends, flee from the worship of idols.” And rest in the assurance of the good news—that God is faithful.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Last Sunday after the Epiphany Year C

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany—Year C February 7, 2016 Once upon a time there was a pastor of a church. This pastor was meeting with a young couple who were newish members of the church, and the pastor was astonished as the couple told him about how important attending worship was to them. The talked to him about how, when one of their children was sick, they would get together on Sunday morning to do a quick spiritual assessment—each discussing the week that they had been through and the week to come, and then together they would decide “who needed church more.” “Church is what helps us make sense of our lives,” they explained, “it’s that pick-me-up that connects us with God and our calling and sends us back into the week.” The pastor went on to wonder what our churches would be like if everyone looked at attending weekly worship in the same spirit. What would our churches look like if at least half of our people had the same outlook? How about even one quarter? It’s an interesting story to think about this week in light of the gospel story of the Transfiguration as well as something to think about as we head into the season of Lent. How might our lives be transformed if we commit ourselves to weekly worship? The story of the Transfiguration is actually a story about worship. In it we see that Jesus’s prayer is what brings about his transfiguration, and we see how the disciples are absorbed into Jesus’s prayer to behold the glory of God in and through Jesus. This is why we worship. It is in the hope of beholding just a glimpse of the glory of God, to be fed and transformed and sent back into our dusty, tired lives just a little bit brighter and shinier. But most of us, the disciples included, become afraid when we see these glimpses of God’s glory, and we try to build structures to explain and contain it rather than giving ourselves over to it. If we are open to allowing ourselves to being transformed, then “worship can be the place where we hear God’s voice, focus on the nature of grace as we experience it in the cross, meet each other in prayer and song, and leave renewed for lives of meaning and purpose that come through service to neighbor.” So today, I want to offer you a challenge. Would you consider to take on as your Lenten discipline this year weekly attendance at worship if you aren’t already doing that? Are you willing to take that risk of showing up every week, of opening yourself to the possibility of being seeing a glimpse of God’s glory in this place and therefore being a little bit transfigured, transformed? And if you are aren’t willing, then ask yourself and answer truthfully, “Why not?” There are five spiritual practices that are the basic practices of Christian discipleship. 1. Pray daily. 2. Worship weekly. 3. Serve joyfully. 4. Learn constantly. And 5. Give generously. Each of these practices helps us to grow and to stretch in our following of Jesus and through practicing each of them, gradually over time we become transformed “like water over a rock.” If weekly worship is something that you are already doing, then perhaps you would consider focusing intentionally on another one of these practices as your Lenten discipline. (Repeat them). Because the point of discipleship, the point of worship, is actually transformation. In our vestry planning retreat this weekend, our vestry watched a video by Mary Parmer from the Diocese of Texas on her program Invite-Welcome-Connect for churches to live more fully into their mission of engaging in the transformative hospitality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. At the end of this video, Mary speaks specifically of transformation saying, “Transformation happens in our lives when we are able to see old things in new ways full of new possibilities. Jesus calls us to live transformed lives, and to see others in a new way, in the way of love. And we are transformed when we can adopt new behaviors, new attitudes. Imagine what our churches would be like if they were filled with people who had the ability to see others, who stop looking at others through the narrow lens of their own world. People who have been transformed by the grace of God….” On this Last Sunday after the Epiphany, as we head into the wilderness of Lent, may God shine God’s light upon you and upon this church, that we may be transformed in and through the glory of God’s love.

Ash Wednesday 2016

Ash Wednesday 2016 Not too long ago, I was driving out to Gray Center for a meeting, and I decided to listen to a podcast. It was a bright, cold day, and the drive was easy, so I listened to Krista Tippet’s program On Being, when she made a live interview of singer, songwriter, poet and “Quaker celebrity” Carrie Newcomer. The two women spoke, and interspersed throughout the interview, Newcomer would sing some of her songs that Tippett requested. As I turned onto Way Road, Carrie Newcomer began to sing one of her newer songs called “Every Little Bit” and to my surprise, I found myself weeping as I listened to it. I finished the song, and I turned off the podcast, so I could pull myself together as I prepared to arrive at Gray Center, but since then, I’ve finished the podcast and revisited the song a number of times to try to discover what was going on in my soul in that particular moment. It’s still a beautiful song to me—the chorus goes something like: “There it is just below the surface of things,/ In a flash of blue, and the turning of wings./ I drain the glass, drink it down, every moment of this,/ Every little bit of it, every little bit.” Newcomer sings in a beautiful, mellow voice about the beauty that is present all throughout life, but most especially when we are aware of the finitude of life-- as she sings: “in the curious promise of limited time.” Today is the day that we dwell with this notion of the “curious promise of limited time.” We look at our lives; we ask God to give us a clean heart that we might begin again. But the purpose of this beginning again is not to be better people who are more virtuous, who eat less chocolate and carbs and drink less Diet Coke. The purpose of this beginning again is to once again steep ourselves in the never-ending and never-failing love of God as we did in our baptism and to come out of it awake and alive and transformed to go out into the world and spread the good news of God’s love. I’m going to borrow a line from my husband here and tell you that God is not going to love you any more than God already does if you stop drinking Diet Coke. God’s love for you is already more than you can ask or imagine. Rather than focusing on what you are going to “give up this Lent”, maybe find a way to develop a practice that helps you examine what you choose to do with the “curious promise of limited time?” At the root of the concept of “giving up” or “taking on” something for Lent is the notion of spiritual discipline (which is actually the same root word as “disciple”.) On Sunday I spoke about 5 spiritual disciplines that help us be transformed more and more into the image and likeness of Christ, and I encourage y’all to consider taking one of these up for Lent. 1. Pray Daily. 2. Worship weekly. 3. Learn constantly. 4. Serve joyfully. 5. Give generously. Pray daily is the one that I am taking on for Lent. Now don’t get me wrong. The act of giving up different foods or drinks can be a helpful spiritual practice. It is the spiritual discipline of self-denial, and it is something that our culture is deeply in need of. But it you do choose that practice, then I would urge you to consider balancing that practice with something that helps you to be more steeped in the love of God this season and to help you consider what you do with the “curious promise of limited time.” “There it is just below the surface of things,/ In a flash of blue, and the turning of wings./ I drain the glass, drink it down, every moment of this,/ Every little bit of it, every little bit.”