Where Were You?

Today’s sermon is on a tough subject, the beheading of John the Baptist.  The question is then asked for this and other tragic events like JFKs death and 9/11: God, where were you? Either listen to the audio below or read the text.

Today’s reading about the beheading of John the Baptist is a tough, tough story to hear, and pretty tough to talk about too. It got me thinking, maybe it would help to talk about some other tough stories, our own stories, from memorable events in our lifetime. To gather stories I posted a message on facebook, asking people to share their memories from either the day JFK was shot, or from 9-11. Stories came pouring in, and within a day, 36 different people shared their memories from one of these days.  It was so many stories I wasn’t able to include them all.   These stories are good reminder of how tragic events can imprint images in our head and heart. Over time they become part of who we are.

As an example, a seminary friend Nancy, remembers the day JFK was shot vividly. She remembers coming down the stairs, seeing her mother had the television on, and that her mom seemed upset and was crying. Nancy says she doesn’t remember any images from the television but she remembers everything about her mother; her shoes, her socks, her dress. Nancy says she could pick out exactly what her mother was wearing if you showed her those clothes today. What’s amazing to me about this memory of the day is Nancy’s age. She was three years old.

For those of you who were also alive in the early 60s, a question: Where were you the day John F Kennedy was shot?

Pat Carney was in South Boston. She describes JFK as a hometown hero. Pat was a Junior at a Catholic high school and remembers the nun teaching US History being called on the school intercom. The nun announced that JFK was shot, then said a quick prayer and dismissed the class. Pat and a few friends then ran over to the church to light a candle & pray. Shortly after a few classmates ran into the church & told them JFK had died. Pat remembers crying in that church alongside her friends, shedding tears for his wife and children.

Our Music Director, Shirley Luttio, was halfway across the world when JFK was shot, in Kujiranami, Japan. Shirley was four years old; she remembers asking her mom if the president went to heaven that day. She was concerned about where he was.

Where were you, on 9/11, 2001?

Gregg Marconi was 30,000 feet in the air, serving as a flight attendant on a plane traveling from Miami to Raleigh. When the flight crew tried to continue onto their next scheduled stop, West Palm Beach, they got an inch away from the gate and stopped. They were told a small private plane had hit the Twin towers, and the airport had been closed. Gregg’s partner was at the dentist at the time, and had no idea what city he was in. When Gregg finally got his phone there were ten voice mail messages from his partner. Gregg was stuck in Raleigh for two days until he was finally able to get a rental car and drive home.

Catherine Turnipseed grew up in New York, so 9/11 was especially hard for her.  She was in college, in Tampa, and remembers getting several calls that day. Every time the phone rang fear rushed through her heart. What disaster would she hear about when she answered? Her father was working at JFK airport that day and called. He told her about watching both planes hit and seeing the buildings collapse from his office on the runway. Catherine tells me her father is Italian, a man’s man, and she could probably count on one hand how many times he’s cried. It wasn’t many. This day was one of them.

A college friend, Heidi, was about 10 miles from O’Hare airport in Chicago, at work teaching grade school children. She remembers hearing about the attacks over the phone, and then turning on the radio to hear more. The most eerie thing she remembers about the day was the silence. Being so close to O’Hare the school was directly under numerous flight paths. On a normal day she had to stop speaking every 15 to 30 seconds as jets screamed overhead during their final descents. That day, the skies were empty except for fighter jets. She says and lack of noise from the planes left a void. It was truly a deafening silence.

Gospel

All this bad news from our lives brings us to the gospel reading today. There is some very bad news for Jesus’ older cousin, John the Baptist. King Herod liked John the Baptist, and knew he was a holy man, a prophet. But John the Baptist was doing what prophets do sometimes, they speak truth to power. And sometimes that has consequences. John knew Herod had married his brother’s wife, and told Herod plainly that was against the law. To keep things quiet Herod put John the Baptist in prison. This arrangement worked for a while, until it was time for Herod’s birthday party.

As part of the birthday festivities Herod’s daughter danced for him. She danced so well for dad and the guests that Herod made her a promise: Ask for anything, daughter, and it’s yours. That sounds like a pretty good party, right?

But then the story turns. The daughter, who scholars tell us was likely 9 or 10 years old, asks her mom for advice. Mom, sensing an opportunity to be done with someone talking trash about her husband, says something shocking. She tells her daughter to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. The daughter listens to mom and asks for it. Herod, not wanting to break his promise in front of the guests, orders it to be done, and before you know it there John the Baptist’s head is, sitting on a platter.

The beheading of John the Baptist was pretty big news for many people at the time. Perhaps it was similar to how we view some of our own dark news days like the death of John F Kennedy or the events of Nine Eleven. Imagine asking Herod’s daughter that same question, where were you, the day John the Baptist was beheaded? “Well” she may reply, “I was at a birthday party for dad, and I danced. There was joy, there was clapping. And then things went very, very bad. “

Or imagine asking one of the apostles, where were you, the day you heard Jesus’ cousin was beheaded? “I was out healing the sick, just like Jesus taught us to do” the apostle may say. “Life was wonderful, magical. And then the messenger came and told us the horrible news. I’ll never forget that day.”

I’d add maybe one more question about that day, a question for God.  God, where were you, the day John the Baptist was beheaded? Because looking at the text for today I don’t see you. It just ends with a head on a platter, and the disciples coming to take his body away to bury it. And that was that, John was dead.

For those of us that were around for the death of JFK or Nine-Eleven we may ask the same question. God, where were you the day JFK was shot? God, where were you the day the Twin Towers fell? Those are hard questions.

Good News – then

But you didn’t come to church this morning to wallow in the news of dead prophets, dead presidents or, terrorist attacks. At least I hope you didn’t. There is good news to share today.

Right before where the gospel reading picks up Jesus sends the twelve apostles out to heal the sick. Word of his ministry was starting to get out. A movement was underway. And right after the beheading the text moves to Jesus feeding the 5,000. So while it’s hard to see God on the day John the Baptist was beheaded it’s really easy to spot God right before, present with Jesus and the apostles as they went about their business healing. And it’s easy to spot God right after, present again with Jesus and the apostles as they participate in the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.

Think about those three events together.   First the apostles are sent. Then John the Baptists is killed. Then the miracle of feeding the 5,000. First sending. Then death. Then miracle. Sound familiar? It kind of sounds like the Easter story to me. That even on the darkest of days God is present. Present with Jesus during his death on a cross. Present with the apostles and other followers during their pain. Present with us, in our pain.

Good News – our past

There is good news in our darkest times too, even from a horrific day like Nine Eleven.

Catherine Turnipseed shares her father’s story of 9-11 every year with her students, along with many other personal stories from her family and friends. Where was God that day for Catherine? She says the day taught her something about God’s mysterious ways. She learned that day God makes us all special, and actively shapes our lives, even in times of tragedy. Catherine says she values the chance to pass these lessons about the day, lessons about God, on to her students.

Where was God that day for a friend of mine from seminary? She found God in church, sitting next to her husband.   The two went to their faith community the night of the attacks to seek solace. Their marriage wasn’t in the best place at the time; it had been 13 months since they’d gone to church together. Exactly one year later, on 9/11/2002 the couple welcomed their second child into the world. Looking back on this day she now describes 911 as a crucial moment in healing her marriage. God was present on that day almost fourteen years ago, healing a marriage, and is still present, walking alongside the couple today.

Where was God that day for Becky, a college friend, on 9/11? She was eight months pregnant with her daughter. Becky says she recalls being horrified that she was about to bring an innocent child into such a dark place. But the experience gave her and her husband Bill resolve. She tells me they decided to do everything in their power to raise their child to be loving and kind to everyone she would meet, and reject hate in any form. God was present on that day for Becky, giving her new insight on how to raise her soon-to-be-born child, and teach her in the ways she should go. God continues to be present with Becky and Bill as they raise their daughter, now thirteen years old.

Good news – today

Where is God today, for you? Some days it can be harder to see God then others. Maybe you’re having one of those days. I sure struggle to see God some days, maybe you do too. Perhaps you’ll experience God in the music today. At least some of you will. Shirley has been leading music in churches for a while now, I’m guessing she’d agree. You can’t please everyone, at least all the time, right Shirley?

Or maybe you’ll find God in the sermon today. At least I hope a few of you will. But if you don’t that’s ok. Not everyone finds God in every sermon. It just doesn’t always happen.

One place I find God a lot is right after the service, in the narthex, during coffee hour, talking with many of you. God is present with us in our faith communities, in our conversations. For me it’s easy to find God among God’s people most days. But even then it doesn’t happen every single time.

Here’s one place you can find God consistently, even in the dark times. It’s in communion. We are given the gift of Christ because God so loved us that God wanted us to know that we are loved. God wanted us to know that God knows what it is like to suffer, to feel pain, to feel hurt. And that God never leaves us because God is an intimate presence in our life.

God gave us Christ to show us the way. To show us that within all the bad news we may experience, we are given the mark of baptism and the bread of communion. God will not fail us. God will not forget us.

In a few moments you will be invited to be a guest at the Lord’s Table and we will hear the words “This is the body of Christ given for you.” Each week we are reminded “this is the blood of Christ shed for you.”

God is part of us. God is with us. The bread we take, the wine we drink, and the cleansing waters of baptism show us no matter what, at all times, we are never forgotten.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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Stewardship: From Environmental to Financial

I originally wrote this article for Luther Seminary’s Center for Stewardship Leaders, it was published in their weekly newsletter on June 9, 2015.  ELCA is short for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; I’ll pastor a church in this denomination in two short years.  Enjoy!

As a second year student at Luther Seminary in the Distributed Learning (DL) program I wear many hats. That’s the beauty of the DL program: it allows you to stay put geographically speaking, offers stability for your family and gives you the ability to continue serving your local church. You get all this, while also pursuing a Master’s in Divinity degree (MDiv) and ordination. What a great gig.

Beyond being a seminarian, my other hats include part-time employment at a local congregation, being a husband, and a parent. It is this role as parent that makes me think about stewardship the most.

Earlier this Spring my wife and our five-year old daughter went to Disneyworld. While there we ran across the movie Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable at Epcot. It’s a story of environmental stewardship that uses characters from the Lion King, told as only Disney can do. One thing Disney weaves into the experience is talk of how the recycling of aluminum cans has changed in the past forty years. In 1972 just 15% of aluminum cans in the US were recycled. By 2012 that number had increased rather dramatically to 67%. What changed so many hearts, minds and behaviors so radically in such a short time?

Part of it purely economic, it’s cheaper for companies to use recycled aluminum. But the more important piece, and what gets people like you and I to separate our recyclables bin by bin, is that the narrative has changed. People now know, through countless efforts from business, government, schools and faith communities that the sustainability of our world depends on it. Leaders of all types play a vital role in educating their organizations, both speaking about environmental stewardship and modeling it for others to see. And when successes happen, like with recycling aluminum cans, we celebrate, knowing we are part of something that will benefit our world for generations to come.

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I guess I see financial stewardship in our churches in much the same way. People need to know that their giving matters, and is a vital part of God’s restorative plan for all of creation. As current and future faith community leaders we must communicate this stewardship narrative and why it’s important, whether that’s our involvement in a local food pantry or supporting the ELCA Malaria Campaign. Find what God is doing through your congregation, lift that up, and celebrate it.

Another important way leaders can reimagine the financial stewardship narrative is to model it. Before and during seminary can be a great time to get your financial house in order. Be intentional about paying down your existing debt. Be careful about taking on new debt, including seminary debt. Utilize grants and scholarships whenever possible. Reevaluate what you consider wants vs. needs. Consider taking part in a Christian-based course on finances like those offered by Financial Peace University or Crown Financial.  These courses offer practical, biblically-based perspectives on how to tidy up your financial house.

Do you tithe? The average ELCA member gives about 2% of their income through the church, so odds are the answer to that question is no. What we can do is to be intentional about increasing our giving over time, communicating what we give, and just as importantly why we give. At its best a conversation about giving is passionate, highlighting the joy and happiness that comes when giving is done from the heart. The hope is that others see this passion, are inspired by it, and are moved to reflect on their own heart for giving.

The Lion King Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable movie concludes that, “making the world a better place begins in your own back yard.” As faith leaders this quote makes an excellent segue into a conversation about financial stewardship as well. The circle of life, as authored by God, modeled by Christ, and led by the Spirit calls us to action.

shut up and dance

Shut up and Dance

Today’s sermon celebrates Pentecost Sunday as seen through the lens of the song Shut Up and Dance With Me, by the group Walk The Moon.  Once you read or listen to the message fire up the Youtube music video, and see what your dance partner, the Holy Spirit, may be saying to you.   Enjoy!

Sermon audio:

Music video:

Sermon text:

Happy Pentecost Sunday!

Pentecost Sunday is the day we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and other earlier followers of Jesus. Today is often referred to as “the birthday of the church.” Maybe we should get some cake and balloons for Pentecost next year, and celebrate that birthday in style during coffee hour.

The text from Acts picks up where the Gospels left off – right after Jesus was raised from the dead, after he’d spent 40 days walking alongside the twelve apostles and other early followers and then ascended into heaven.

Can you imagine what it must have felt like to those earlier followers to experience all that? And then suddenly realize that Jesus was no longer with them? Think about possible questions from the crowd. Where did he go? When will he be back? What should we do now?

Maybe these were the questions the apostles were looking to answer when meeting on that first Pentecost in the upper room. If I were there I think I’d be afraid, not knowing what was coming next.

And what was coming? Scripture refers to what happened in the upper room that day in many ways. Some translations call it the Holy Ghost, others call it the Holy Spirit. Even there we begin to get the sense that what came that day was sacred and otherworldly. What came is also described in Acts 2 as “as strong wind, gale force” and that the Holy Spirit “spread through their ranks, like a wildfire” So the Holy Spirit can be understood as an element like wind or fire, changing the world as it goes.

The understanding of the Spirit as fire is also why we wear red this day. To celebrate the Spirit coming to us in fire.

Other places in scripture refer to the Holy Spirt as Helping Us Along, as an Advocate, a Comforter, and a Friend.

So the Holy Spirit is many things.   My seminary professor, Louis Malcolm summarizes it nicely, saying:

“through the Spirit we are freed. Freed from being hooked by unjust and dysfunctional patterns within and around us.” She continues, noting “As the Spirit transforms us into Christ’s image, we no longer are beholden to any other interests but God’s purposes for us and for the world.”

I rather like that summary, and would perhaps add one thing. With the Holy Spirit you are never alone.

With that in mind here’s just one more way to consider the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the Holy Spirit could be considered your divine dance partner.

Dance Partner

This notion of a divine dance partner came to me a couple of months ago. It started normally enough while driving to a chaplains meeting, listening to the radio.

This encounter with the Holy Spirit was totally unexpected, borne of some music from the secular, FM dial. Sitting there in my car a song played, Shut up and Dance, by the group Walk the Moon. Has anyone else heard this song? It’s pretty popular right now.

I’d heard the song a few times before, and remembered liking it, but something in this particular moment struck me in a new way.

In this song I now heard the Holy Spirit, and understood a major depressive episode I experienced a few years back in a new light. The song hit me hard enough that I sat there, in the car, driving on the Turnpike, and was moved to tears.

It may sound strange, but I’d like to share what I heard. And to share what these lyrics now mean to me. To take this journey into new meaning I’d like you consider a Holy Spirit that is alive and well in 2015. A Holy Spirit calling us away from worldly pursuits and towards a life filled with the love of Christ.   Calling us to new life, to move, to dance with grace.

We’ll go through the lyrics line by line.

In this story the Holy Spirit is feminine. In Hebrew the word for spirit (ruach) which is feminine. Some view the Spirit in masculine terms, or with no gender at all. But in this story, to fit with the song lyrics we’ll consider a female Holy Spirit.

The song begins (lyrics are in bold)Oh don’t you dare look back just keep your eyes on me.  When hearing this I’m reminded of when I was agonizing over whether to keep my job in corporate America. At the time I was absolutely miserable, in a downward spiral of a depressive fog, and needed release. Don’t you dare look back the Spirit beckons, just keep your eyes on me, she says. We’re going somewhere new.

This conversation with the Holy Spirit continues: I said you’re holding back, She said shut up and dance with me!  This is so typical. I want to follow Christ, I want to be led by the Spirit to new and exciting places, but my selfishness, my brokenness still takes the lead. Look, there I go, trying to tell the Holy Spirit how to do her thing. It’s like when Jacob wrestles the angel to get his blessing. I want that blessing, but I want it my way. You’re holding back, I say to the Holy Spirit, give me that blessing! She corrects me, directly, yet elegantly, Shut up and dance! Shut up and dance with me! 

The song moves from conversation to realization: This woman is my destiny, She said oh oh oh, Shut up and dance with me!  We’re being led by the Holy Spirit. Not just to dance with the divine. But to leave our pride, our selfishness, our sense of control. To leave all that, to push it aside, and to dance, letting the Holy Spirit take the lead. That’s no easy thing, we’ll need frequent reminders to drop our perceived need for control. To Shut up. And to be at peace with following, to dance with the Spirit.

The lyrics then take me to another time of personal darkness: We were victims of the night, The chemical, physical, kryptonite Helpless to the bass and faded light. Have you ever found yourself a victim of the night, tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep? Lying awake, not able to find the peace of a full night’s rest?

While in my dark fog of depression I sure had this problem. Sleep was elusive. I felt like a victim, suffering and in mental anguish. I felt alone. But the Holy Spirit suggests otherwise. *We* were victims of the night, she says. WE. We are not alone.

The chemical and physical effects of depression are inescapable. Depression is commonly linked to low levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that regulates mood, memory, appetite and sleep. That’s pretty important stuff. Too little serotonin can’t help but have physical effects, like not being able to sleep and withdrawing from friends and family. At the time this was my world.

The kryptonite reference is a curious one. Kryptonite is the radioactive element that takes away all of Superman’s powers, making him weak and vulnerable. This is not unlike the effects of depression, which for a time took away anything I’d call a semblance of life.

But that all sounds very dark and horrible; and there is more to the story than that. I’m reminded again that *we* were victims of the night. Me and the Holy Spirit. Having some all nighters, hanging out together. Perhaps the chemical effects of depression that drew me away from certain things, were drawing me toward something new. Like this offer to dance.

The lyrics then find fate is in play: Oh we were born to get together, born to get together. We are all born in a fallen, broken state. Separated from God from the beginning. Trying to find our way back into the Garden of Eden, back to relationship with our Creator. But how? Jesus paid that price, covering our brokenness and faulty nature, restoring us to newness of life. What now? We dance. We dance into the world around us with our new dance partner, the Holy Spirit. Why yes, it’s beginning to make some sense to me, we* were* born to get together, each of us, finding new life as we dance with the Spirit.

Perhaps this is the right time to begin, the song suggests: She took my arm, I don’t know how it happened. We took the floor Finally, the dance has begun! It’s the Spirit that reaches out, taking your arm, leading you into the world. Do you know how it happens? I can’t say that I do. I do know this: the more I let her lead, the more adventure there is. The more fulfilling life becomes.

The lyrics then offer a reminder: She said: Oh don’t you dare look back just keep your eyes on me, I said you’re holding back, She said shut up and dance with me! My takeaway from her reminder? There will always, always, ALWAYS be that voice in your head that wants you to take the reins back. To take the lead. To ignore the Holy Spirit and do things your way. But we know, each of us, what happens when we try and play God. Nothing overly good. Shut up, the Holy Spirit says. Dance with me!

The story then ends with a look ahead: Deep in her eyes, I think i see the future. I realize this is my last chance. Dancing with the Sprit is a very intimate, personal thing. And when you do it, your future will change. You will see it differently. You will never be quite the same. And while I don’t think this is my last chance to dance with the Spirit it’s a good chance. And an opportunity I don’t plan to pass up.

But that’s just one story, one person, one dance. What about you? Where have you seen the Spirit active in your life? The next time the Spirit comes and asks you to be her partner will you answer that call? If you do, will you let her lead? Shut up and dance, the Spirit reminds us. Dance with me.

shut up and dance

Get Lost

My third sermon, titled Get Lost was delivered yesterday morn. The message is based on Mark 8:31-38, one of the times Jesus tells off Peter.  Watch, listen, or read, pick your poison.  Enjoy!

Audio:

 

I’ve never really liked Peter. I’m talking about the Peter we find in the Good Book, one of the twelve disciples. For one thing, Peter is known for having a temper. In the garden of Gethsemane, right before Jesus is arrested, Peter cuts off the right ear of someone.   Just up and cuts it off. Peter is also known for denying he knows Jesus. Not once. Not twice. *Three* times, all because he was afraid.

Then we have today’s reading from Mark 8. Jesus tells the disciples that he’ll be killed, and rise three days later. After hearing this Peter grabs Jesus in protest. Maybe Peter is in shock, not wanting to let go. Or perhaps he doesn’t exactly understand. When Jesus says he would rise three days later, what could that possibly mean? We know the story about what happens three days later, the story that culminates Easter Sunday. Peter didn’t.

Or maybe Peter doesn’t hear that last part about Jesus rising three days later. Imagine your best friend tells you of their impending death. You may not hear much of what they have to say after that either. You’d probably grab the friend and hold them close to you as well.

Then, right after Peter grabs Jesus in protest, a surprising thing happens. Jesus confronts Peter about all this grabbing, saying, Get lost! The central character in our faith tradition, tells one of his disciples, in no uncertain terms, get lost! I don’t know about you, but the thought of Jesus looking me in the eye and plainly saying get lost is terrifying. It’s like my personal brokenness was too deep, too dark, too much for Jesus deal with.

But, wait a second, maybe there’s more to the story. When Jesus confronts Peter he exclaims “Peter, get out of my way!” Jesus then says, still speaking to Peter, “Satan, get lost!”   Ahh, that changes things. Jesus isn’t telling Peter to get lost, whew! He is looking at the brokenness, the darkness within Peter and telling *that* to get lost. In Lutheran terms, we understand our human condition as being both saint and sinner. We are both, at all times. Jesus here asks the darkness in Peter to step aside so he can speak with Peter the Saint.

Jesus Redirects

And what does Jesus say to Saint Peter? Before we get to that, it may be helpful to step back a little earlier in the story. Right before revealing that he must be killed Jesus asks the disciples, “who do you say that I am?” Here Peter does something I really do like. It is Peter who responds, “you are the Christ, the Messiah!” Jesus reminds Peter of this, saying “anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.”

Jesus then tells Peter something that is really hard to embrace in our culture. He says self-sacrifice is the way to find your true self. Put a little differently we could say this: To find the real you, lose the current you. 

Agnes

One person that knew how to get lost in self-sacrifice was a woman named Agnes. Born in Albania in 1910, Agnes lost her father at the young age of eight. Fascinated by missionary stories, by 12 she became convinced she should commit to religious life. At age 18 she joined the Sisters of Loreto as a missionary, leaving behind friends and family, getting lost in a journey thousands of miles from home.

After spending a year to learn English, Agnes moved to India. While there she taught English to schoolchildren for eighteen years. Agnes then had what she describes as a call within a call. For this next call she received basic medical training and started tending to the needs of the destitute and starving. In her personal diary she wrote that “Our Lord wants me to be free, covered with the poverty of the cross.”

In the coming years Agnes received permission from the Vatican to start a new congregation in India. The mission of the congregation was to help people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society.” The congregation began small, in 1950 it had one location with 13 members. By the time she died in 1997 the organization had grown to more than 4,000 sisters. The sisters run orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centers worldwide. These centers care for refugees, the blind, disabled, alcoholics, the poor and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine.

The life of Agnes was defined by self-sacrifice. She knew that to find the real you, she’d have to get lost. And get lost she did, moving thousands of miles from home, taking an oath of poverty and building an organization that helps millions upon millions of the poorest of the poor. You may recognize Agnes by another name. To many she is known simply as Mother Theresa.

BBT

Admittedly, not everyone can be Mother Theresa. If I told my wife about plans to drop everything and move to India, well, that conversation probably wouldn’t turn out too well. She’d probably tell *me* to get lost, and not in a good way.

Even though we can’t all be Mother Theresa there are plenty of ways we can practice the self-sacrifice Jesus models as a way to find ourselves by getting lost.

At St. Michael you can get lost by volunteering at the Palanca Food Kitchen feeding the homeless. Or you can help make PB&J sandwiches for local school kids that don’t always have a meal to eat. Or you can donate school supplies for kids both locally and in Haiti.

Author Barbara Brown Taylor finds that getting lost can happen anywhere, in all kinds of ways. You can get lost on your way home. You can get lost looking for love. You can get lost between jobs. You can get lost looking for God. Taylor is refreshingly honest about when she has been lost: “I have set out to be married and ended up divorced” she says. “I have set out to be healthy and ended up sick. I have set out to live in New England and ended up in Georgia.   While none of these displacements was pleasant at first, I would not give a single one of them back. I have found things while I was lost that I might never have discovered if I had stayed on the path. I have decided to stop fighting the prospect of getting lost and engage it as a spiritual practice instead.”

Peter revisited

Getting lost as a spiritual practice. Maybe that is what Jesus tries to encourage in Peter when he tells Peter’s darkness to get lost. Peter tries to protect his friend Jesus from harm, a very human, very noble thing to do, but Jesus has something else in mind. A new spiritual practice that Peter didn’t quite understand at the time.

Despite Peter’s flaws God had big plans for him. Jesus thought so much of Peter that he calls him the Rock, proclaiming “upon this rock I will build my church.” And build Peter does; founding churches in Rome and Antioch while serving as the first Pope.

Ironically, this same apostle who tried to shelter Jesus from the ultimate self-sacrifice met a similar fate. Peter too preached the Word and died a martyr. While Peter didn’t understand this new spiritual practice in today’s reading, he lived out getting lost until the end.

And maybe that’s the value of Peter, a reason to think well of him. That despite his flaws, doubts and darkness he was used mightily by God. What I don’t like in Peter is exactly what I don’t like in myself; the flaws, the doubts, the darkness. Despite all this, God can use me, can use you, can use all of us when we lose ourselves in Christ.

 

From Rage to Grace

Here’s a lil video done as a final class project for a Media & Religion course I took earlier this month.  The video is a retelling of Smashing Pumpkin’s 1995 hit Bullet with Butterfly Wings.  In a way this is also an extension of my Reformation Rage sermon.  The sermon narrative only explored part of the song lyrics, of rages and cages. This video works through the entire song, a work that already drips of spiritual longing all by itself.  Viewers take note: the video starts dark – that’s the rage – and evolves into a brighter place. Enjoy!

 

 

 

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