Monday, February 1, 2016

Lent: A New Normal ----Our life, or new life in Christ

Recently I was asked, “Why does Easter move anyway?” 

I knew I had learned this at one time, but I also knew I did not remember. 

Other than knowing it had something to do with the moon, I could not articulate my answer. 

We know the date for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick ’s Day—but Easter, well that one moves.

Here is the short answer: 
Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox, unless the full moon falls on a Sunday, then it is delayed a week.

Is your head hurting yet?

The vernal equinox is the Spring Equinox- March 21. 

March 22 is the earliest Easter can occur on any given year, and April 25 is the latest.

You may be wondering, as I did, just how this formula got put into place.

Easter and Passover
Easter was once determined by the date of Passover.

Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples.
Passover celebrates how the Israelites, when slaves in Egypt, were protected by the blood of the lamb across their doorways, as death passed over them during the plague.  Because of the blood of the lamb they were protected and liberated.  God saved them and brought them to freedom through the sea. 

That Passover meal became the Last Supper where Jesus instituted the sacrament Holy Communion.

Here in this meal Jesus shared the new covenant offering forgiveness, love, and grace.  In the New Covenant Jesus shared a four part blessing—he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. 

His life was taken, blessed, broken, and given so that we would have new life in this new covenant, forgiven, and made new.  

Jesus became the Paschal Lamb, whose blood would protect us, free us, and lead us to new life. 

On that night Jesus was betrayed and the next day he was crucified and on the third day he rose again.

 In this way, Easter is connected theologically to Passover.

A Little History
But the date became no longer dependent upon Passover at the Council of Nicaea.

This was the first ecumenical gathering of the Christian Church where the church uniformly came together to agree upon doctrine which is articulated in the Nicaean Creed.

At this meeting the Church also argued over the reliability of dating mechanisms and chose to no longer use the Jewish Calendar  to determine Easter.  Instead they began to calculate the date using the Julian Calendar whereby the date would be calculated using the date from spring equinox so that Easter would be the first Sunday following the full moon after the spring equinox. 

The Church continued this practice calculating Easter with the Julian Calendar until the 1500’s when the church realized that their reliance on this calendar was causing them to incorrectly date the spring equinox (the spring equinox is the one day in spring when there is exactly 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness).

The Julian calendar assumes the year is exactly 365.25 days long. Unfortunately, the actual solar year is slightly shorter (it is 365.242199 days to be exact). Although the difference appears minor, it can add up over the centuries. In fact, every 129 years, the Julian calendar slipped one additional day out of synchronization with the actual solar year.

So if the date for Easter was off- then Lent, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost would so be off.

To correct this, Pope Gregory XIII, issued a papal bull in 1582 that resulted in several calendar revisions, the most important being the creation of the Gregorian calendar. [i] 

The Western Church decided to use a Gregorian Calendar system, while the Easter Orthodox continued to use a Julian Calendar.   So the date for Easter, for the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant Church continues to be set using this calculation, while the Eastern Orthodox Church continues to use the Julian Calendar.

Who is Easter Really About?
However the Church has begun to talk about creating a set date for Easter .  The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that it would help schools and families to arrange terms and holidays. [ii]

Having a set date certainly would help us arrange our schedules and plan our lives.  And I’m definitely glad that the spring break in Chesterfield County falls the week after Easter this year, rather than the week of Holy Week, so that families can worship through the week at church on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. 

Yet, something in me finds the fact that Easter moves a good thing. 

The purpose of Lent is for us to refocus and stop putting ourselves first, to repent and believe the Gospel remembering that we are dust and it is Christ who give us life—new life! 

Moving Easter for our convenience, seems to me to contrary to the reason for Lent.
Perhaps when Easter messes up our schedules, it is a good thing. 
We have to repent and reorient ourselves.

 Every year, we have to ask ourselves, “When is Easter?”  And perhaps that may become the start of our Lenten practice? Have our habits and spiritual disciplines become old, worn, rote even?

When is Easter and how can we reorient our lives to be in line with the meaning of Easter, rather than move Easter be in line with our desires. 

Jesus Christ comes and makes everything new!

When the date of Easter changes each year—we have to shift and be made new.  

Nothing stays the same, except for the steadfast love of God. 
We drift away filing our lives with our plans and our purposes. 
We create our life, and in so doing we forget how Christ gave His life for us.

Easter this year is on March 27, and the 40 days leading to this day begin Lent.

On February 9, I hope to see you for Shrove Tuesday as we begin putting Christ first in our schedule and plans and walking with our Savior first in our schedule.

The next day, February 10 is Ash Wednesday, we will place the ashes burnt from last Palm Sunday’s palms as the sign of the cross on our heads, humbling ourselves, remembering who we are- from ashes we came and from ashes will we return, and knowing that when we repent and believe the Gospel we have new life.  We will offer a Children’s Ash Wednesday Service at 6:30 and a Traditional Ash Wednesday Service at 7:30 so that people of all ages are able to experience and understand the power of this humbling service.

Each Wednesday throughout Lent we will offer Lenten Lunches at noon at church.  We will have be having a time of fellowship sharing in soup and bread and then we will worship together. 

The First Sunday of Lent is February 14 and we will begin our Lenten Series “A New Normal.”  We begin our “New Normal” series recommitting ourselves and renewing our covenant in line with the New Covenant Jesus offers. 

February 14 is also Valentine’s Day! 
Could your relationship use a new normal-- a revival of the heart- a re- commitment and      renewal?  Following the 11:00am worship service we will offer an opportunity for couples to Renew the Covenant of their Marriage. We will have extended childcare on this day and we invite all couples, whether you have been marred 40 years or 4 years to not only recommit your lives to Christ in this worship service, but also recommit to the covenant of your marriage. 

Christ has come with a New Covenant, New Wineskins, New Birth, New Commandment, a New Understanding, a New Kingdom, and New Life!   
I pray that throughout this Lent we will all take the opportunity to develop a New Normal in Christ Jesus our Savior! 

In God’s Love, Grace, and Peace
Pastor Beth

[i] The new Gregorian calendar had an extra day in those years that were divisible by 4 (just like the old Julian calendar), but unlike the Julian calendar, it did not add an additional day in years that were divisible by 100, unless the year was also divisible by 400. Thus, under the Gregorian calendar, the years 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years, but the years 1600 and 2000 were leap years.
• To make up for the errors in the old Julian calendar, ten days were omitted from the new Gregorian calendar. Thus, Thursday, 4 October 1582 in the old Julian calendar was immediately followed by Friday, 15 October 1582 in the new Gregorian calendar.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Prayer for Preachers before Christmas Eve

I am a perfectionist, I know that.  But who do I think I am? 
It's not up to me. It's not about me. 
I found myself stressing and trying to write the perfect plays, perfect sermons, the perfect liturgy, the words and prayers that would change hearts and move people to know Christ.  
Who Do I think I am??? 
It's Christmas!  Jesus is showing up! 
It is not about me and it is not up to me. 
SO - I wrote this so I would remember my place. 
Humble me Lord Jesus, to do your will- nothing more, nothing less.  

Lord Jesus, It is not up to me.

On the biggest night of the year when the people come.

It is not up to me.

You will bring them.

Your Spirit will pour out.

It is not up to me.

You will work Lord Jesus.

You already have.

 And you will.

It is not up to me.

To change their hearts, to make them respond,
To bring light to their darkness or free them from burdens.

You have.

Come, Lord Jesus Come.
You already have.

And you will once again.

Come , Lord Jesus Come.

Melt me, mold me, use me.

Ignite me to shine.

Ignite us all.

Come Lord Jesus Come.

Shine in us this Christmas Eve.

Once again, be born in us.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Holy Ground

Today in Preschool Chapel I talked with the children about holy ground. They came in and were so quiet, shy, sweet, and curious.  

After we learned each other's names we talked about the name of the room we were in "The Sanctuary" - a special place where we come to pray, to thank God to know God and then go to do what God wants us to do.

We learned about Moses today and how God called him

 "God called Moses and Moses said 'Here I am'"  We come to here to the sanctuary because God calls us and we say, "Here we are."

"God told Moses to take off his shoes (I slip off my shoes to show them)  because he was standing on Holy Ground-  today we are all going to keep our shows on   "Can everyone say holy."   HOLY  "That means it is special and sacred.  God told Moses- I want you to go help my people.  Moses was scared but God said you can do it because I will be with you.  We come here to be still and hear in this sacred special place of the sanctuary to know what God wants us to do. We can do what God wants because God will always be with us."

 I taught them about acolytes and how we light the candles first thing to remember God is with us just like God was with Moses in the fire.  How God is our light to guide the way.  "The acolyte comes down the aisle and bows just like Moses did- can you bow- (we all bow) and we light the candles."

  Standing up at the altar one boy said, "What is that X that's turned around up there?"

I pointed to the cross- "Does anyone know what this is called?"

No one knew.

I said, "This is a cross.  When we look at it we remember that God loves us.
 Can everyone say that with me: "God loves me!"  We all said it together.

 "When we see this cross we remember all God has done for us and all God keeps doing for us.

Walking behind the altar to point at the stained glass window.

This is Jesus.  Who is Jesus holding?  All the kids say: "A Baby!"  "Jesus loves all the children and Jesus loves you! Can you see that this is the biggest window in our church?  It is important to know that Jesus loves you very much! The church is where you come and learn about Jesus and how He loves you!"

Sitting back down I look at the boy who asked me about the turned around X, "I am so glad you asked that question!"  Looking at all of the children, "Asking questions is so important because that is how we learn!  When you have a question, can you please raise your hand?"

My little questioner says, "Yes and you know if it's really important you can raise both hands!"
Me: "That is a great idea!"

Now I want to sing a song with you called "Jesus Loves Me!"   Has anyone hear this song before?
1 child raises their hand.

Well, if you don't know it it's okay--we're also going to learn the sign language so that we can know it in our head and heart.

We sing-- There faces just lit up.  One boy, in my second class (I did one preschool class at a time) who had stayed close to his teacher turned toward me while we sang.

Before we go, we're going to have a prayer together.  Have you prayed before?

My sweet question boy, "Yep. ... I only pray on Sundays."
"That is awesome!"
"And, did you know you can pray every day too?"

Ms. Joan, "How about we sing a song about what days we can pray?"
We sing together a song of all the days of the week!

We pray:  Dear God, Thank you for this day.  Thank you for my school.  Thank you for my teacher.  Thank you for my friends.  Thank you for loving me.  Help me to know you are always with me, Amen."

I say A - long a- Amen and a little girl says, "Should we say amen (long a) or amen (short a)?"

"You can say it both ways!"

But how about we learn one more song- and this one is clapping song-- we sing it at the end of church here and it goes like this, "Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen"
The kids happily clap and sing!

We had a giant group hug and they said Thank you for Chapel and off they went.

It was a great morning!  How awesome to welcome children into God's love!

This afternoon I get to go offer worship to some of God's children who are older at the Crossings at Ironbridge for the 4th Thursday Worship Service there.

God is good!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Thoughts on Abortion, Humanity, and the Damage of Distance

After being submerged in sermon planning and then traveling back home for a Visitation and Funeral- I'm finally catching up on the news that broke earlier this week about Planned Parenthood.

People ask me all the time about controversial issues and what the church thinks about everything from Energy Policy, Israel and Palestine, Human Sexuality, Gambling, and Abortion-- you name a controversial topic- people want to talk about it.
 And we should.
            We should not be afraid to talk about hard things.

Karl Barth said we should preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

When I walked into the chapel at Birmingham- Southern College I read the United Methodist Social Principles and I thought, "WOW!  Here's a church that is not afraid to talk and live and act in a way that says- we care what happens in the world."

You can read more about the United Methodist Social Principles here.  We don't all agree on all of these principles-- what's important is that we allow our faith to respond and guide us to be in both conversation and action with the world.  We also understand that many of these issues are not easy to talk about and they are not always black and white.

 United Methodists have a history of speaking up and acting on issues of social justice.  We don't only talk- we do.  We care about the world and we refuse to idly sit by waiting to die.  Our theology is grounded in an understanding that God's grace has  poured love into our lives and so we respond to the love of God intentionally by living in loving relationship with Christ and others.  What we do - works of piety, works of mercy, works of justice-- flow from our response to God's grace and the stirring of the Holy Spirit.

Well, I am stirred up tonight.
 I should be sleeping- I was exhausted when I began reading and watching videos of the news that broke this week.

We're meant to be engaged with the world- not hide from it.
And when we get engaged with what's going on- we wake up.

So I'm awake right now... even though I should probably get some rest soon.

In 2001 I spent a month in Mozambique working on building the foundation of a school in Cambine with my college.  As the Chronicler for our trip I was able to visit two hospitals- one was funded only by the government and the other received both government funding and funding from The United Methodist Church.  The first hospital lacked separate wards for people with TB, HIV, for women and children.  Some people did not have beds- many were on the floor- the pharmacy was mostly empty.  There were many hard things to see.  There were two women dying from infection after having back alley abortions.  They had more children than they could count or even feed.  They were not allowed access to birth control.  Their husbands raped them repeatedly and thought of this as their right.  I ached for them and the tragedy of their lives.  Their children would soon be orphaned.
The hospital funded by the United Methodist Church in Chicuque    was drastically different with beautiful separate wards, a decorated children's section, equipment, and much more.  I was and am so proud to be part of a connectional church that makes places like this possible through apportionments and our united work together.

If you've seen Dirty Dancing- you've seen the terrible scene where Penny has had an illegal abortion and barely survives.

For many reasons- there are women who feel they have no other option.  I believe that we can do better. If we really care-- we need to help women early and help them know that there are more options.  I believe in our country there are safe ways women can obtain the services of a safe abortion, but my hope is that we can do all we can to make this rare.

Ed Stetzer points out in his article from Christianity Today:
"In 1992, President Clinton talked about making abortion "safe, legal, and rare."

I believe we need to work on truly making it rare.

What if the church loved so deeply--  more than words... kind of love-- love with actions and resources and hospitality?  What if every woman had people around her to love her and let her know, "I'm with You" to such a degree that she knew she would not be judged for her pregnancy or her choices?  That she would be loved no matter which option she chose concerning her pregnancy- and that she'd never be alone.

I believe proponents against abortion begin with good reasons, yet often speak too much about what not to do and lack follow-through and action on how to care for unwanted children. Yelling at women walking into a clinic does nothing to help this cause and lacks compassion for the woman (likely frightened and stressed) who likely does not want to be there.

I believe proponents who speak in favor of choice are not pro-abortion, but I believe the lack of action at working to make this choice be not just safe and legal- -but one that women choose rarely is a travesty.

Life is sacred. The life and well being of a mother and the life and well being of an unborn child. 

There is much that Planned Parenthood does that has nothing to do with abortion.  They help many families have access to family planning, they provide cancer screenings, they provide a great deal of education.

I am completely disgusted at the video of Deborah Nucatola which you can see in numerous places, but I believe first released via The Washington Post.  

I am sure she does not represent all of Planned Parenthood and I appreciate the shared disgust of her lack of compassion and economical way she spoke about real people and real lives given shared by Cecile Richard's official video response from Planned Parenthood.

I'm not only disgusted.  I'm outraged that someone whose sole purpose in that moment should be the care and well being of a troubled woman- would be focused not on her well being- but on how to best harvest the organs of her fetus. I'm enraged that it appears her day was focused on how many of what specimens she needed rather than the women she was there to care and serve

 Her use of technical language has clearly distanced her and she has forgotten her own humanity.  She's made things so clinical, that she has forgotten compassion.

I am angry.

In the midst of this I seek grace to know where God can lead us now.
In the midst of this I confess my own distancing of the world so I don't have to feel all the feelings you feel when you love authentically.

I think we do this with our language all the time - it may not be clinical language- but it comes in all different ways and it makes us forget who we are and how we are meant to live all the while distancing and masking our true selves.

We call people who are a stranger in a foreign land- "illegals" and we forget their humanity.
We divide people into camps of GLBTQ Allies or homophobes and we forget their humanity.
We slap labels - progressive, liberal, conservative, tradistionalist.... and we forget our humanity.
We call Black Men -thugs-- and forget their humanity.

Rather than deal with language, vulnerability, privilege, and power-- we simply allow ourselves to separate out until we forget that we are meant to love one another.  We get farther and farther away. Distance does damage.

Early church Father-  Dorotheus said, "The closer we are to God, the closer we are to one another.  And the closer we are to one another, the Closer we are to God."  We're losing a lot when we forget to see one another as sisters and brothers made in the image of a loving God who wants us to love-- to love at all times, but especially in our brokenness.

I'm angry Deborah Nucatola became so very distanced from the reality of humanity and became so immersed into a black and white reality of clinical cruelty.  I pray that she may recover her humanity to speak to and about others as real people.

I'm also angry that I'm part of a culture that contributed to her distancing herself.  She slipped away.  No one starts off this way-- but they can fall--- further and further into compassionate oblivion.  No one noticed her lack of compassion-- no one held her accountable to caring.  We have to do better.

So what do we do?

I believe we need to wake up.

I believe accountability and justice must occur.

We need to pay more attention, care deeper, come closer.

We've got to do better at keeping our connection to God and one another not only in tact but strong and growing so we don't forget our humanity or that of others.  That starts in community with the vulnerable hard work of asking, "How is it with your soul?"

Those in the medical field should have check-in's with counselors and therapist to make sure that they are still seeing patients as people and not consumers.
Police are already required to undergo psychological testing and compassion/empathy training.
There are checks and balances developed so that soldiers aren't put back in the field when they aren't ready.
Clergy in the UMC undergo a thorough ordination process so that toxic people aren't ordained and do damage.

Even with these kind of checks balances in these professions and others- people still act out, do wrong, and lack compassion.

But we're failing when we're not working hard as a community of faith- to care for one another in ways that counteract desires to draw away and become distant.

We need to deal with each other- not grow distant.

We need to love enough that everyone remembers how to love.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Prayer for a Mammogram

 Lord, be with me as I walk into the room.  Clothe me in your comfort as I take off my clothes and put on the dinky hospital gown with the snaps that confuse me.  Put your words in the mouths of the nurses, technicians, and doctors who see me.  When I walk in the room with the giant machine let me lift my eyes up to you and not this machine of torture used for good.  As parts of me that you created are smooshed into ways you did not create them to be, release the anxiety from me and vanquish the fear.  I’m not so worried, Lord about the pain of being smooshed… I fear all that comes later.  Breathe this fear out of me. When it’s all over and the dinky robe goes in the laundry bin, continue to clothe me in courage, grace, and the undeniable truth that you are with me.  Amen.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Prayer of a Pastor in Advent

O Lord my God
I am so very tired.
Everywhere I look there is work for me to do.
When I rest I wake refreshed for a moment and then feel guilt.
There is so much to do.
I want time. 
And I know you have given it to me.
Forgive me.
I cannot do all the things.
And even worse I cannot do the things I know I should do.
There seems to be no energy in me.
I long for you and the sustenance I know you give.
I pour myself out with hope to serve you.
I wait longingly for rest.
I know hope and I know joy are coming.
Forgive me and help me forgive me.
I pray others will forgive me when I cannot live up to all I should be.
I pray you will wipe away the shoulds from my life.
Forgive my failures. 
Free me to serve without fear.
Release me from the bondage of all I do not know, my fear of unknown, my worry, my desire to fix all I cannot fix.
Let me rest in you.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
I am waiting for you to come and 
shine in me with radiant energy so that I may serve you.
Use me and let my life be, my call be, let me be,  used according to your will.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thoughts on Hospitality

I’ve learned that hospitality is risky.

  I have to risk vulnerability, rejection, judgment, dismissal.  

  Hospitality means that I desire connection with another.  I desire that we will connect, that we will love one another as sisters and brothers in Christ.  

Hospitality is full of hope and anticipation for what God may do in our relationships.  

The hope that I may open myself willingly to others and that they would receive me and reciprocate.  The hope that in reaching out my heart will grow in connecting with others.  

Anticipation is not the same as expectation.  Anticipate does not know what will happen but welcomes the newness and unknowing with joy.  Expectation defines what I want to happen.  Expectation is not necessarily bad, in fact I think it’s really good to have clear expectations for many things.  

Yet, I’m not sure expectation has any role in hospitality. 
  I’ve been thinking that expectations in hospitality and in offering myself to others, in offering space to others, in opening myself to the world—just seem to be unhelpful.  Either I limit what God will do or become disappointed and hurt by others.  If I am truly offering hospitality—wouldn’t it mean that I do not have an expectation of them?  Wouldn’t it mean that I put it out there and let it go?  I can still hold to anticipation, but perhaps I should stop expecting others to react, respond, reciprocate in various ways.  It seems like true hospitality must be without expectation because it has to allow space for the Spirit to bring comfort, change, peace,… whatever is needed.  How can someone feel truly welcomed if they feel they are expected to be a certain way?

Perhaps the only expectation for hospitality is the expectation of authenticity.  Yet even that can be hard for people. 
  Do expectations force people to be certain ways?  As in, “I have to be authentic because she wants me to be?” 
I always go back to the tattered notebook paper which had Nouwen’s definition of hospitality written in black marker that hung in my office as a missionary:  “Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer space where change can take place.”
Even this expects something—a change.

Reminds me of chemistry- which I was horrible at but had a teacher who tireless worked  with me and worked so hard but just struggled so…. But chemistry always has a reaction.  Things come together and you expect a reaction to occur.

If the hospitality I offer—is open, selfless, just an offering of myself  and what I have--  can I want a reaction? 
  Sometimes we want healing, we want reconciliation, we want a growing deeper, we want a movement forward...
Most always wanting connection – certainly grounded in my extroversion. (yes there are times I want to just sit in bed and do nothing and be with no one, or walk in the woods with just me and my dogs... but I feel as though I have a yearning, an urgency to be connected -- not for the sake of being connected but connected with the purpose of sharing Christ.) 

I value connection with others.  I value connecting with them as people, as children of God—we may have nothing in common—but somewhere, somehow we are connected…  and that must mean something.  

Perhaps that is the one thing we have in common and from there—couldn't something grow deeper? 

Certainly we will not be connected to everyone in the same way – the same depth—but something of hospitality and connecting with others must be this purpose, this power- in seeing and saying, “I see you. And in seeing you I acknowledge that you and I have been created and we have the possibility of unity."
(wasn't there something like this in that movie where people were blue?)

 The possibility of unity is not something for us to work at or make happen- but for us to listen deeply enough to hear God speak, to be still enough to feel the Spirit move, to in some way realize that we have both been redeemed and made new by the same Christ who lived for me and you and died for me and for you and rose for me and for you.

Hospitality opens the door to connection and yet connection does not mean “I like you” or “I agree with you.”  
But somewhere it must mean I value you.  I value who you are, I value that you were made for a purpose.  I value that you have gifts.  Inherently, hospitality must honor another person.  
Honor who they are as different from me and honor who we are together as connected with me. 
  Honor seems to be a way of loving the child of God that is in you—The Christ in me sees the Christ in you—and as children of the kingdom/kin-dom connected through the blood of Christ – we are family and we love one another. 

How do we live this hospitality?  Seeking connection, forsaking expectation, hoping with anticipation, open for God’s presence to dwell with us so that we are freed from fear, so that we can truly be our authentic self, with the hope that connection will be birthed?

For so much of who I am, I believe this to be my deepest longing.  Not to run and retreat from others even when the world has been hurtful… but to experience the truth of what I know must be possible because of Christ.

Christ came for all the world and died for all the world. 
  The World is my Parish. 
At Pentecost the reality of unity was experienced— All Speaking different languages, and yet the Spirit made them One. 

Hospitality- Connection—Honor- - Unity