A Prayer of Thanksgiving

From time to time, I am asked to lead in our time of community prayer at Montecito Covenant Church, the community where my husband and I have been active for the last 23 years. Today was one of those days. The preaching passage was John 8:2-12 — the woman taken in adultery. I began with a reading from Isaiah . . .

As we begin our time of community prayer today, I’d like to share with you a reading from the prophet Isaiah.

In at least one of the lectionaries used by the church over the last several hundred years, Isaiah’s words stand as a companion text to our primary preaching passage today. It happens to be one of my favorite passages and I think it might help us move into a time of corporate thanksgiving and praise this morning.

Hear the word of the Lord as it was given to the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 43, verses 16-21. I will be reading from The Message.

“This is what God says,
    the God who builds a road right through the ocean,
    who carves a path through pounding waves,
the God who summons horses and chariots and armies—
    they lie down and then can’t get up;
    they’re snuffed out like so many candles:

“Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is!

I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.
Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ —the coyotes and the buzzards—
Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sun-baked earth,
Drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.”

The word of the Lord:Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

We bring our praise to you, O God. To whom else shall we go? All of us here, gathered in this space — we are a people custom-made to praise you. And so we do!

We praise you for rivers of water in dry places, we praise you for majestic mountains and mighty oceans.We praise you for green, green, GREEN everywhere we look these days.

We remember all too well that it has not always been so. We have seen fire and flood, devastation and destruction. And yet . . . here it is — new growth on the hills of our city; the sounds of new construction going on where all has been washed away; and here in our sanctuary, the coos and cries of new life already in our midst and the promise of new life still to come.

So today, we pause to say,

“Thank you for doing a new thing in our city. Thank you for hope. Thank you for every single raindrop of our very wet winter. And thank you for the newness of spring as it blooms and blossoms across the landscapes of our lives.”

As we lean into the newness of nature, the color and the moisture and the sheen of things, will you give us eyes to see the newness you are creating within us, too?

Thank you that the rain of your mercy continually washes us clean and makes us new. Thank you that the mistakes of our past do not have to determine our future. Thank you that your grand gift of salvation means more than saying the right words or even believing the right things. Because we are always works-in-progress, aren’t we? Like a river moving through the barrenness of our hearts, your saving grace continuously makes us new. It’s not a once-and-done kinda deal, is it, Lord? We are always being saved. Thank you.

.Your friend Isaiah reminds us to let the past go. And he gives us the mandate to ‘be alert and to be present,’ ever on the lookout for what you’re up to, for your work of newness.

Thank you, thank you, thank you that you are not done with us, that you are not done with our world, that you are not done with gift-giving, with care-taking, with companionship. That you will never stop seeing us, knowing us, loving us, saving us.

We will admit to discouragement at times, Lord. It’s loud out there in the world. Ands sometimes it’s loud in here, too. Here in the church, and here in our hearts and in our minds. We find the noise exhausting some days. When that happens, Lord, will you help us to hear the lovely sounds of your river of life right in the middle of  our own deserts?

Remind us of your goodness, your creative imagination, your awareness of our brokenness, your concern for our welfare. And then empower us to offer those same things to one another, will you, please?

We don’t want to be like those who come to throw stones and then turn away because of our own shame, because shame is never your idea, is it? No, it is not.

Your idea is always newness, your life-giving water poured into the driest parts of us, your encouragement spread across our discouragement, your grace triumphant over our shame.

Oh, thank you. Thank you.

Because of Jesus,

Amen.

A Prayer for Dusty People: Entering Lent – 2019

This is what the LORD says—”Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland…I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

Isaiah 43

O Lord, how we long for you to do a new thing in our midst.
How we long to see the way made in the wilderness,
the stream flowing through the wasteland.
For we are indeed your people, formed to praise you.
And so we do.

We praise you that you are the God of new things.
That you are the God of wilderness way-making,
that you are the God of life-giving water in the midst of life’s wastelands,
that you are the God who reminds us to ‘forget the former things,
because you are in the business of making all things new.

Start with us, please, Lord. Start with us.

Make us new, inside and out.
Teach us to live as new creatures –
not because we’re fad-hungry
or driven to own the latest new tech device;
not because we’re bored with life and need a new kick;
not because we’re in need of a diversion.

Make us new because we need your transformational energy at work within us in order to live as whole and holy people.

Make us new because we’ve worn out the old ways, we’ve tried them repeatedly and learned the hard way that they just don’t work. Make us new because we want to be people who radiate the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus – that amazing, multi-faceted, lovely fruit-of-nine-sides that Paul listed out for us:

Love, Joy, Peace,
Patience, Kindness, Goodness,
Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control.

So…start with us in this making-new business.
Because if we’re truly open to the newness your Spirit can bring
and if we truly live out of the fruit your Spirit grows in us,
then we can carry that newness into every situation and relationship
we find ourselves in whether that’s
our family home, our dorm suite, our place of business,
our classroom, the grocery line, the traffic jam,
the blog comments, the political debate,
the kitchen table or the table at our favorite restaurant,
the well-worn beach path or hiking trail,
or the sidewalk right in front of where we live –
wherever our lives lead us –we can bleed newness, your newness, into our world.

So, we ask that your church worldwide might be a sign of newness,
a whisper of beauty, a word of kindness,
a presence of hospitality, a ray of civility”
in an increasingly uncivil and terrifying world.

Convict us when we fall short of this worthy goal;
convince us that we, with you at work within us,
have the inside scoop on the hope this world needs.

Consider that we are but dust – but then . . . continue the work of new creation even in our dustiness.

And please, bless our very dusty leaders, denominational and political,who are engaged in important decision-making on many fronts.

Grant us peace in our churchly dialog and in our civic discourse,
wisdom in our personal and our national decisions,
and grace with one another when the day is done.

Thank you, Great God of all things new,
for your everyday goodness and grace,
for your mercies which are new every morning
and which sustain us our whole life long.

In the name and for the sake of Jesus, your son, who makes it possible for us to be made new each and every day.

Amen.

This post is a re-post from a few years ago. It originally appeared as a Lenten column in The Covenant Companion, a publication of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

A Re-Post in My Birthday Month

Nearly fifty years ago, I was a stay-at-home housewife with three children under the age of five, wildly in love with my kids but often overwhelmed by fatigue and feelings of failure.

Forty years ago, I had three teenagers, served as an active volunteer in church and community, loved entertaining large groups of people in our home and was oblivious to the truth that this good, rich time of my life was rushing by me.

Just under thirty years ago, I walked across the stage to pick up my master of divinity degree from Fuller Seminary after four years of study, all that studying done while managing a small floral business in my home, watching each of my children move into committed relationships and becoming a first-time grandparent.

Fourteen years ago, I was nearing the midway point of my pastoral life here in Santa Barbara, discovering the harsh reality of death in our family circle for the first time, trying to balance (what is that, anyhow?) home and church, family and congregation.

Today, right now, I am retired from parish work; I offer spiritual direction from my home; I write very occasionally on my blog, and a few other places on the internet and in print; I have children older than most of the people I meet with or write with; I am married to a man I love deeply, a man who stays home most of the day because he, too, is retired; I am now without parents, a truly motherless child; and I am Nana to eight grands, two of whom are on their own, working and in committed relationships, two of whom are college students, none of whom are babies, in any sense of the word. And one is getting married in the spring. Good grief.

And at this moment, on a chilly California afternoon, I am reading this list and wondering . . . who do I want to be going forward?

If I am blessed by continuing good health and even the moderate level of agility which I currently enjoy, I may live another ten or twenty, maybe even twenty-five years at the most.

What will these years look like when I stand there, in the future, and look back at now?

What do I hope for, dream about, pray for, purpose in my heart to do — or maybe more importantly — to be during how ever many years remain?

Here, in no particular order of importance, are the things that rise to the top as I ponder that question.

I want to laugh, a lot, even if it gets raucous and unseemly.

I want to cry easily and regularly, most especially when I’m with someone who is suffering, when I see someone dear to me, when I remember love.

I want to pray more with my body — with my hands and my feet, with my heart and my soul — and a whole lot less with my head and my mouth and my words.

I want to sing — even though this old alto quavers and cuts out from time to time — I want to sing, sing, sing, in harmony, out loud, and often.

I want to move — to sway with freedom, to dance with my grandgirls, to walk on the beach, to stand up and cheer for the next wave of women and men whom God will raise up to lead and to love.

I want to love my husband well as we move together into whatever comes next. We’ve been through some scary crises, the two of us, we’ve watched people we love suffer terribly and we’ve had a few major health issues ourselves. But now, right now, and for the foreseeable future, we’re good. Often tired, getting older by the minute, but good. I want to enjoy the good for as long as we’ve got it.

I want to encourage my children and my grandchildren to be and become women and men of faith and fortitude, of love and loyalty, of commitment and concern — for themselves, one another and others. I want to do this without words as often as is humanly possible.

I want to slowly and carefully divest myself of much of the ‘stuff’ I’ve accumulated over these years — not all of it, I love my stuff a lot. But I want to be more concerned about the inside than the outside, more generous than acquisitive, more open and less protected and protective.

I want to keep on learning — about myself, and how I’m wired, about this world, all its gifts and its flaws, about people and how they work, about life and how rich it is, about God and the mysteries of our faith.

I want to send roots deep into the beauty of life, to stand in slack-jawed joy at the wonder of it all.

I want to be brave and kind and encouraging.

I want to admit my flaws, own up to the messiness, look in the mirror without hesitation, and tell the ugly voices within to shut the hell up — because that’s exactly where they come from.

I want to raise my hands to heaven with gratitude at least a hundred times as often as I raise my fists in frustration.

I want to lean into the future with anticipation, come what may. I want to own my wrinkles and my cellulite, to celebrate the long life that has thinned my hair and thickened my waistline, to embrace the inevitable losses because of the inestimable gains.

I want to stand there when I’m 80 or 85 or 90 (really???) and look back at 74 and say: That was a great decade, wasn’t it?

I want to live until I leave. Every minute, every heartbeat, every breath — a gift.

This post originally appeared at the lovely site of A Deeper Story/Family 5  years ago. It seemed time to take it out, change the numbers around a bit and re-commit to what I said then. Because I still believe it, I still want to live this  life as fully as I can for as long as I can. How’s about you??

A Living Hope — Remembering Lucille Peterson Johnston

I had the privilege of giving the homily and pastoral prayer at the Witness to the Resurrection Service for one of my dearest friends, amazing Lucille.  A mentor to me for 43 years, she lived a full, rich life, fully using her gifts of leadership, hospitality, generosity, inclusion, encouragement, creativity and joie de vivre. I thank God for her. I am posting this short piece here for anyone who loved her and was unable to travel to Santa Barbara today for the service. I wish I could give you the entire time — the memories, the singing, the piano music, the laughter. Maybe this will give you a tiny piece of the whole.


They’re all gone now — all of my mothers. My own mom, the one who birthed and raised me, died last year at the age of 95. My husband’s mom, the one who welcomed and included me, died in 2014 at the age of 98.

And Lucille, the mom who mentored me, who saw gifts in me I didn’t see in myself; the one who challenged me to begin the slow, steady work of becoming a pastor — now she is gone, too, at the amazing age of 102.

And I feel each loss profoundly.There are no substitutes for any of these remarkable women. None. Each one was a gift of God in my life — planting seeds, modeling courage, living a life of faith and faithfulness, fully and well.

So I join with Cindy and Curt and Jim and their families in grieving today. There is a huge hole in the universe that opened last weekend, one that will never be filled in exactly the same way. And it’s important to say so, to acknowledge and make room for the tears, to pause and let it sink in that someone with a larger-than-life presence is no longer touchable, no longer filling that unique and particular space in our lives and hearts. And that is painful.

But here is something else that is true, perhaps even more true than the pain: even in death, we have a living hope. That is why, as I stand here and you sit there, we can all link arms and give testimony to this truth:

          our gratitude is wider, deeper and greater than our grief.

And if Lucille were here with us, I’d offer to help her design a needlepoint purse that says exactly that!

            Our gratitude is greater than our grief.

All week long, I have been overwhelmed with the depth of my gratitude — to God for the gift of this woman in my life, to Lucille, for being who she was, and to all of you for sharing her so generously with all of us. There is no one like her — never has been, never will be.

Now we all know, she wasn’t perfect. Not one of us is. But I gotta say this — she came really, really close, didn’t she? She had strong opinions and she shared them. She liked to be in charge and she was scarily good at it. She never garnered a long list of degrees after her name, but her intelligence was through the roof. And she adored her family — every single member of her family — the ones she bore and the ones some of them married, and the kids they bore and the kids they married, and now the kids the kids had!

And then, there were all those cousins and aunts, her amazing sisters, the two remarkable husbands and an entire step-family. All of you were shining stars in her universe and I hope you know that, way down deep inside you. Because to be loved by Lucille Peterson Johnston — that is a rich gift, one with lasting impact and importance, one that changes you from the inside out.

In the midst of my own remembering, and on the rising tide of my gratitude, I’ve reflected on why that last point is true. Why is it that the love of a person like Lucille has the power to change us?

I think it’s this: Lucille was the embodiment of what it means to live firmly situated in the ‘living hope’ that Peter talks about in the first chapter of his first epistle. Lucille walked the talk. She knew God, up close and personally. She radiated energy and life and hope, which, if you think about it, is a pretty risky thing to do. Because when we allow ourselves to hope, we open ourselves to the strong possibility — maybe even the likelihood — of massive disappointment. Sometimes, living in hope can feel tenuous, uncertain, even frightening.

But here’s the thing about the kind of hope that Peter is talking about here, — this living hope is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, “oh, I hope, I hope, I hope I get what I want” kinda deal. No. Peter’s kind of hope — God’s kind of hope, Lucille’s kind of hope — is alive — it has wings and a beating heart and it can move us to do remarkable and world-changing things.

“By his great mercy,” Peter wrote to the church, “God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (NRSV)

It begins with the mercy of God, and it continues through a life lived in hope, and is brought to completion when we reach the moment of our inheritance. And that is where our dear Lucille is right now, friends. She is experiencing the completion of the living hope that was her life on planet earth. She is enjoying the company of God in ways we can only imagine, and she is surrounded by nothing but love. Nothing.

Harold and Roy are there, of course. And her mom, whom she moved across the country to care for so many years ago. And sweet Drake, who left us way too soon. And her sisters, Doris and Betty, and so many friends, too many to count. And before we know it, we will be there, too — some of us sooner than others.

But between now and then, we have work to do, don’t we? We have the remarkable task of carrying on her legacy, of letting that living hope empower us to be the truest, fullest, richest persons we can be. Because here’s the wonderful truth — Lucille knew herself. She knew who she was, what her gifts were, whom she loved. And she was the very best Lucille she could be, wasn’t she?

That’s what the mercy of God can do, you see. That’s what living in hope births in us — a growing awareness of who God is, yes, indeed. But also a growing awareness of who WE are, and a deepening desire to live these lives we’ve been given fully aware and fully awake.

So thank you, Lucille, for being you. For showing us the way to the good life, for calling out the best in us, for reminding us, with that ever-present twinkle, that there is always more to come.

And thank you, God, for giving her to us and for giving us to one another.

 

Will you pray with me, please?

 

Loving God, Risen Savior, Gentle Spirit,

How we thank you for the gift of Lucille. For her grace and beauty, for her warm hospitality, for her generous and thoughtful gifts of love and inclusion to so many people. We miss her. And this family misses her most of all. Enliven us with your presence, even as we sit together in grief. Remind us of that hope with wings that Jesus makes possible.

We pray especially today for all these ones in the front rows, the family Lucille loved so dearly. Will you bring the healing balm of tears and of laughter, the soothing comfort of memories, of photographs and family history, of things shared only by them?

And will you bring to all of our hearts and minds our own special and sweet remembrances of Lucille’s endless gifts — rich gifts of creativity and hospitality and leadership. And empower each of us, by the work of your Spirit within us, to live our lives as fully as possible. To know ourselves, to deepen our walk with you, to reach out to others with the kind of welcome that Lucille modeled for all of us, the kind of welcome that she experienced because she knew you so very well.

No, there will never be another one like her, Lord. And that is exactly as it should be. Thank you for your loving design, O God, your careful and invigorating breath of life, that Spirit that is uniquely breathed into each and every one of your human creatures. Thank you especially that the Wind you breathed into Lucille blew our way for so many years.

It is all gift.

In the name of Jesus, the one who loves us and walks with us, we pray today. Amen.

 

 

 

 

When Forces Collide — for SheLoves, November, 2018: Gathering

It’s time to write my monthly essay for SheLovesMagazine. You can begin here and then follow this link and finish it off. I’d love to hear your own thoughts and experiences around those seasons when forces collide in your life.

There are seasons when troubles seem to multiply like rabbits. I’ve lived through a few such seasons in my life and they are always tumultuous. It feels like all the gathering winds are blowing in opposite directions and the resulting chaos becomes the new normal.

A decade ago, our family walked through the valley as my elder daughter’s husband passed from this life to the next after a long struggle, a life-and-death struggle of mammoth proportions, in which they were both exceptionally brave. In the middle of all that horror, my daughter actually had a friend — who was in ministry! — come into her home and say to her, “God will never give you more than you can manage.”

You wanna bet?

Personally, I think God often makes a point of allowing ‘more than we can manage’ to barrel into our lives on a regular basis. And just to be clear here, the biblical admonition being badly misquoted to my daughter has absolutely nothing to do with suffering. It has to do with temptation, and that is a very different ball of wax, in my book.

Suffering is part of life. It simply is. Hard and terrible things happen — people get sick, fires rage, floods ravage, wars erupt. Even smaller scale complications can feel overwhelming at times. Sick kids — not unto death, but unto eternity (or at least that’s what it feels like!), appliances breaking down, not enough month at the end of the money, multiple failed attempts at resurrecting a broken relationship — all of it adds up. All of it can make you feel as though you don’t have enough wits, energy or will to find some kind of resistance or remedy.

So today, I have a question for you: do you feel like life is beating you up at this moment in time? Like no matter how many times you set the pins up right, some giant bowling ball from the sky just comes along and blindsides every dang one of them? I hear you, my friend. I hear you. And I want to offer you a small shard of hope. . . 

To continue reading this piece, please follow this link and join the conversation over at SheLoves Magazine, one of my favorite spaces out here in cyberspace.

Let Go, Let God — for Addie Zierman’s LinkUp

So, this whole ‘let go and let God’ cliche from so many voices in the evangelical world. I’ve written about and around and through this whole idea from lots of different angles over the years, most especially as this cliche morphs with others — like, ‘he must increase, I must decrease,’ or ‘more of Jesus, less of me.’ There’s something about the whole ‘dying to self’ mentality that has gotten more than a little bit twisted over the decades. The longer I live — and clearly, that has been a lotta years now — the less I like any of it. In truth, I believe that this particular worldview has done far more harm than it has good.

When we advocate for the annihilation of the self — and at its core, this phrase is advocating for exactly that — we are lying to people, big-time. We are teaching something that is diametrically opposed to the kind of life Jesus invites us to live, the kind of life Jesus modeled for us, the kind of life we are designed to inhabit. We are, in a word, deeply devaluing the Incarnation. God took on our flesh — that’s how deeply we are loved. That’s how valued human flesh is — every single human-fleshed person ever exisiting — every.single.one.

Please hear me clearly here: I am not in any way disparaging the sacrificial work of Jesus on the cross, nor am I saying that we are destined for an easy, comfortable life. If the gospel shows us anything, it is that a life lived well is a life lived with generosity, kindness, tolerance, joy and acceptance. It is also a life marked by suffering, loss, sorrow, grief, tragedy and sometimes unspeakable horror. We are human persons, living in a world of beauty and of terror. Life lived here will always be a mixed bag. Yet we are promised joy in the midst of all the mess and mayhem. How is that possible?

Well, it doesn’t happen by abdicating our selfhood. It doesn’t happen by waiting for some kind of robotic activity within our zombie-like bodies under the strange spell of a god who is outside of us and chooses to use us like puppets on a stage.

It does happen when we are open to the possibility of partnership.

When we say ‘yes’ to the sweet voice of the Spirit who woos us with an invitation to join the dance.

It happens when we spend time, energy, effort — and money, as needed! — to discover who we are and how we’re wired. It then becomes our ‘job,’ if you like — our primary task in life — to experience God’s delight in us and to realize that it is God’s delight that both invites and empowers us to use our unique mix of gifts and talents in service of the kingdom dream. And that is going to look different for every single one of us.

There are no duplicates in God’s design. And we will never, ever become clones of anyone, not even Jesus. Hopefully, there will be in us — as in an old, married couple — an increasing similarity, striking ways in which we begin to resemble one another and our elder brother. But letting go of who we uniquely are at the core of our being is not what is required. Not at all. On the contrary, it is when we discover and release our ‘who-ness’ that God is most delighted and most honored. Ireneaus got it right, all those centuries ago, “The glory of God is a human person, fully alive.”

There will always be things to let go of, oh, yes, there will. Most particularly, we must learn to release all the accretions of time and choice that are keeping us from knowing and being our truest selves. Things like pride, fear, obsessive drives of any kind, besetting sins. Those things we must part with — or at least, keep working on!

But that center piece, that true blue, loving, imago dei?  Oh, no — not that. Not ever that. YOU are designed in the image of a loving, creative, hard-working, knows-when-to-call-it-a-day, merciful, justice-seeking, lovely, kind and joyful GOD. A God who sends some spark of divinity right into each and every soul that draws breath on this planet. A God who sees, knows, loves, and draws forth that spark, over and over and over again. A God whose desire is for our good, for our growth, for our mutual embrace. A God who — beyond our power to reason, imagine or sometimes, even believe — wants human beings to jump into the circle and DANCE.

Don’t ever let go of that.

Joining this reflection with Addie Zierman’s, “Let Go, Let God” link-up. Oh YAY for link-ups!

A Prayer for Those Needing Hope

As is my custom, whenever I am asked to offer prayer in public worship, I post it here. Today, I also had the privilege of leading the worship service, in the absence of both of our pastors. Another congregant, Dr. Greg Spencer, Professor of Communication at Westmont College, preached a powerful word on learning to hope well. This prayer was built on two passages — Psalm 33:18-22 and John 11:1-44. Immediately before this prayer, the congregation sang 3 verses of
“Be Still, My Soul.”

I want to invite you to still your souls for a few moments. To quiet and center yourselves in the presence of the God who loves you,
the Lord who is on your side,
the One who is your best, your heavenly friend.
I will extend this same invitation to stillness
at several points throughout today’s prayer.

 

Please pray with me:

Faithful Friend,
Loving Father,
Beautiful Savior,
Winsome Holy Spirit,

Blow through the cobwebs,
loosen the grip of fear and anxiety,
free us from the distraction of the various responsibilities we carry,
open our minds and our hearts to YOU.

Help us to remember you are consistently guiding us to a future which you can see, but we cannot. You are not controlling us or condemning us, you are guiding us.You are coming alongside, you are a companion on the way. A companion who knows us, inside and out . . . and loves us anyway.

Part of what keeps us distracted, what makes it difficult to still ourselves, are all the lists we carry around in our heads. One of those is the list of ways in which we have fallen short — fallen short of who you’ve designed us to be and fallen short of what you’ve called us to do.

So, in the silence of the next moment or two, help us to still our souls, and to offer that list to your tender care. Help us to also receive the forgiveness and acceptance that your grace makes possible.

Hear our prayer, O Lord:

+++Silence+++

There are other lists inside our heads, too, Lord, lists we sometimes fail to recognize
or acknowledge in ways that might bring us life and joy. A primary one of those is the gratitude list — all those things, which, if we take just a minute to think about it, we are deeply grateful for — things about our life, our work, our community, our home, our relationships. It’s a good thing to be grateful, God, a very good thing. So hear our words of thanksgiving now, as we sit, quietly, with you.

+++Silence+++

And as a gentle word of encouragement to those sitting nearby us, we offer to you one or two items from that list out loud, all together, right now:

+++Shared speech+++

Oh, it’s lovely thing to say thank you! And we truly do have so many things for which to say it. “Thank you! Thank you!”

Then there is different kind of list, a heavier one. That’s the list of people and situations that feel difficult, maybe even hopeless to us — physical, emotional, mental, financial, political, relational — all of them places of pain, in our lives and in the lives of others whom we love. Hear and answer, O Lord, as we silently lift to you some portion of that list which we each carry in our hearts. Have mercy, Lord Jesus. Hear us as we pray:

+++Silence+++

Last, but far from least, in that pile of lists we carry with us is the one which holds those things we hope for — events, milestones, healing, newness, times of refreshment,  moments of reconciliation — this list is unique to each one of us and yet the hope is something we share, at a level deeper than words. Will you help us to hope well? To trust that you know best? To learn from our mistakes, to focus on your faithfulness, and to practice resurrection as we wait? Help us in this moment of stillness to verbalize or to visualize those things for which we hope:

+++Silence+++

God of all hope, thank you for listening. Thank you for the invitation to be still in your presence, and for the assurance that though the way may be thorny, the end, ah, the end, is filled with joy.

Be with our brother Greg as he breaks open the Word for us this morning. And bless our pastors this day, Lord God — Ian and his family as they find rest and recreation in the Sierras, and Jon and his family as they meet and worship with the congregation in Salem on this day. May each one of them find moments of soul-stillness, moments when the assurance of your loving presence fills them, and us, with joyful expectation.

We pray all these things in the blessed name of Jesus, the Christ, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John 11:1-44
“Well, what did you expect?”

 

Here you are reading this. You anticipated something, or you hoped for something, right? “What did you expect?” is a question we often hear—and it has a hint of criticism in it. “Aren’t you shrewd enough to know what’s coming next . . . that there would be traffic . . . or a negative answer . . . or that you would need your sweatshirt?” Expectations are part of how we think and talk about the future. So are anticipations and hopes. Jesus cares about how we live in relationship to the future. He wants us to “anticipate well” by keeping our insistent expectations about this world low and our hopes for what God can do high. Sound like a hard line to walk? We’ll walk through it together this Sunday morning.

FIRE — Use It or Abuse It? — for SheLoves, August 2018

Each week during the winter months of the year just past, our Confirmation students would arrive, shivering in the central California coolness, for our very early 8:45 a.m. Sunday classes. My husband would gather wood from a nearby pile and light a fire in the lovely fireplace in our gathering space. One by one, the girls would line up in front of it to warm themselves. (Generally speaking, middle school boys do not admit to discomfort of any kind!) Some chose to sit on the hearth for the entire lesson, not wanting to leave that cozy space.

Now, juxtapose that picture with this one: last December, the largest wildfire in California history raged through the foothills of our community, after destroying hundreds of homes in a large town to our south. We ate blessed to live in a house-with-a-view, one that put us in a direct line with the Thomas fire’s voracious movement across our city landscape. It was horrifying to watch and left scars that remain visible today, eight months later.

Fire.

Cozy or cancerous? Source of warmth and comfort or disaster and dismay? Something we are drawn to or repelled by?

Depending on the circumstances, both sets of answers apply, don’t they? Fire can give life or take it, it can provide order or create chaos, light up a room or demolish it. Like so much of life, fire is a very mixed bag.

Now take that truth about physical fire and apply it to our use of ‘fire’ in more metaphorical contexts:

“The fire within,” for example — is that a good thing or a dangerous one?                             “We need to light a fire under him/her.“ Good advice or bad idea?                                         “I spend all my time putting out fires.” Negative thinking or reality check?                             “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Wise counsel or needless nay-saying?

It depends, right? The difference between a contained fire, used for warming or cooking, and an uncontrolled wildfire is immense. And a person filled with the ‘fire of faith’ can be a rich source of healing for the broader community or a danger to everyone he or she touches. Where is the line between healthy passion and unhealthy obsession? Even more pointedly, how can we learn to be the light of the world without destroying people in the process?

Far too much of today’s conservative church is caught in the grip of unhealthy, obsessive behavior and language. We find it terribly easy to choose sides, state opinions, and make judgments about people, politics and policies. We make so much roaring noise that whatever light we may carry becomes barely visible. . .

To finish this essay and join the conversation, please click here.

A Prayer for Those in Need of Goodness and Mercy

Whenever I am invited to pray in public, I try to post those prayers in this space. Sometimes, people ask me for a copy and this is the easiest way to make that happen. In our church community, we find ourselves in a surprising season of discord and misunderstanding. We’re working on it! And the sermon for the day helped, as did the song that just preceded this prayer, “Psalm 23,” with the chorus that begins with, “Surely goodness, surely mercy” Yes, indeed. Please, Lord. (Our primary teaching text was Zechariah 8)

IMG_9985

 

Oh, Good Shepherd, we gather together in this place,
at this time in our history and in the history of the world, to acknowledge —
out loud and with all of who we are —
that we stand in need of goodness, we stand in need of mercy.
Every last one of us as individuals, and all of us together as your people at Montecito Covenant Church. All of us.

We need to remember, and to give thanks for, the truth that You are on our side,
even though the valley be dark and the way ahead, uncertain.

Lead us, O Lord, into green pastures. Restore our souls, refresh us with the water of life, remind us that we belong to You, and remind us that You are good.

Even as we acknowledge that goodness in You, O God, we must also own the truth that we are sometimes not so good.

We step on toes, 
we say harsh things,
we talk about others when they are not present,
we make judgments with incomplete facts,
we make assumptions,
and stand on entitlement,
and fail to practice grace and peace.

Forgive us, O God. Forgive us. And help us to forgive one another, too.

The climate in the world around us right now is not particularly conducive to forgiveness, nor to goodness and mercy. So it seems even more important than usual that we — as members of Christ’s body — practice what we preach. Will you help us to do that, please?

The text before us today reminds us of some of those things we preach, and we need to hear them, we really do. Bless Pastor Jon as he brings us your word for today. Give us ears to hear, O God, give us hearts to understand, and give us feet that walk out that truth into our world, beginning with the patio, and then the lunch tables we will share together a little later today. May your grace and joy infuse every conversation, guiding us into wisdom, and good decision-making.

Most of all, Lord God, will you help us to let your goodness and mercy inform what we say and do in our day-to-day living? That is not always easy for us. Some of us are in the throes of deep grief during these days of summer —

loved ones die,
relationships dissolve,
circumstances take a nosedive,
hard decisions must to be made,
ugly voices rise to the top in too many dialogues,
children suffer,
politicians seldom tell the truth,
poverty of all kinds surrounds us,
wars never end.

To us, the world feels a shambles, and we forget about goodness and mercy.

But we are not YOU, O God. Help us to look around us and see what you see — a world in need. . . yes. But a world that is also deeply loved, a world held in place by a Good and Merciful Sovereign, a world in which we are invited to partner with that Good Sovereign in the necessary work of restoration, reconciliation, recovery, and renewal.

We give you thanks this day for the evidence of that good work in the lives of those graduating from Bethel House and the Rescue Mission last night, celebrated right here, in our sanctuary. And we give you thanks for the changed hearts in thousands of teenagers, including some of our own, who were at the CHIC conference in Tennessee this past week. Thank you!

Bless and encourage every hurting heart in this room, O God. And use each of us to make that blessing real. Help us to be good neighbors — to each other, and to all those we meet day by day. Because everybody, from the grocery clerk to the rude driver behind us, needs a little goodness and mercy in their life, too.

They need the truth that we already know: that all of us belong to you — every last, mixed-up, weird and wonderful one of us.

Glory be.

In the name of Jesus — who loves us, who died for us, and who, by the power of the Spirit, was raised to new life, the One who dwells today in the church, including this one, in that name, we, together say,

AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redefining Terms — For SheLoves, May, 2018

Anyone who has read my work for any length of time will know that the content of this month’s essay at SheLoves has appeared, in slightly different form, here and in an ebook I put together about five years ago. It’s a BIG topic for me, essential to my spiritual and emotional health and sanity and I’m happy to have another venue in which to speak it true. I believe this to be one of the most important truths of our faith, one that can help us navigate any misguided theological input from our past. I’d love it if you would click over and join in the conversation at SheLoves.

IMG_1352

When I was a little girl, faithfully attending Sunday school each week, we had a little saying that went like this: “Jesus, Others and You – that’s how you spell JOY.” And I inhaled that sentiment like it was the sweetest of perfumes. YES! We should always be last on the list, giving ourselves away to Jesus and to other people. That’s how you live like Jesus, right? That’s how you are a good girl, a truly good girl.

As I got older, that simple phrase became a little more complicated, and the scent of it a little more cloying. This time, it went something like this: “He must increase, I must decrease,” lifting the words directly out of the mouth of John the Baptist near the end of chapter 3 in John’s gospel. From there, it morphed into, “More of Jesus, less of me,” and the older I got, the more terrified I became when I heard those words.

I didn’t recognize it as terror initially. In fact, I didn’t know how deeply this message had affected me until I began to be interested in spiritual direction. I first learned about direction by reading a series of novels, of all things. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, British author Susan Howatch wrote a great bunch of stories about priests in the Anglican church and I devoured those books when I was in my 40’s. They were earthy, to be sure, but they were also rich and filled with beautiful tidbits of theology and ecclesiology. Throughout the entire series, some of my favorite characters were spiritual directors.

So I began to look for a director, and the first woman I interviewed handed me the beautiful Prayer of Abandonment by Charles de Foucauld. It’s a beautiful prayer, filled with love, joyful submission, and trust. But I could not pray that prayer.

I tried, but I’d get to the word ‘abandon,’ and start gulping great gasps of air. I prayed about it, I talked it over with the woman who had given it to me, and her immediate response to me was this: “Diana, you need therapy. Not direction.” (Did I mention I was in seminary at the time and beginning to hear God’s call to professional ministry? What??? Pastors might need therapy? Well, that’s a great big YES.)

I spent the next twenty years trying to unpack what happened inside me as I read that prayer and, in the process, I have taken a long look at that old Sunday school saying and the use (or mis-use) of that verse from John 3. And I’ve done a TON of personal work on all kinds of important things. . . all because I gagged on the word, “abandon.”

There is lots more to these thoughts — come on over and join us at SheLoves!

Get a personal letter from Diana direct to your inbox once each month

Sign up now for 'More Wondering' and as thanks, receive Living the Questions, Diana's 8-chapter ebook wrestling with some of the hard questions of life and faith.

powered by TinyLetter