A Prayer for Those Who Ask, Seek, Knock

Our worship service yesterday morning was filled with many lovely things, including a final song arrangement that was one of the richest worship experiences of my life the past dozen years or so. Our brand-new, quite young Interim Music Director took two songs we love to sing and braided them together, alternating men’s and women’s voices, including our singing the choruses simultaneously at one point. These two favorites were: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and “Great Is Our God.” 

Our prayer time was led by a long-time member, a Professor of Communication Studies at nearby Westmont College named Greg Spencer. The gospel text was from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7, and included Jesus’s strong words about our need to take care when we are judgmental. That passage ends with Jesus’s 3-fold command to “ask, seek, and knock.” Greg led us in a moving meditation on what that asking, seeking and knocking looks like in the dailyness of our lives. 

Several in the congregation asked for a copy of it, and as Greg does not yet have a blog of his own, I offered to post it here. It blessed us all very much.

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Lord, we come to you for many reasons, to learn from you about how to live, to sit with you and talk about our day, to worship you—but we also come for gifts. We ask. We seek. We knock. And so we do this morning.

We’ve asked, Lord, and you’ve answered. We’ve asked you for help and help has come—to overcome our temptations, for help with our children and their foibles, for good diagnoses, and easy passage. And this is what we’ve been given: this power to overcome, this guidance in relationships, this fear of disease removed, this mercy in our travels. Thank you.

But we’ve also asked and you’ve given us this, this answer that seems like a question: this on-going struggle, this wandering in brokenness, this accident.

We trust that you will not give us a stone when we ask for bread. We pray this morning for friends struggling to overcome addictions, for strength to triumph over besetting temptations, for our family members in trouble. We ask, Lord, we ask.

We’ve sought you, too, Lord, and you have delivered this, this thing what we have sought: a marriage, a baby, a job, more love for you. Thank you.

Sometimes we have sought and you’ve given us this, this solitary life, this childless marriage, this unemployment, this dark night of the soul.

We trust that you will give us what we need, that our nets will be full of fish, not snakes. You want to set the best before our table, so we seek you this morning. We pray for work for those who need better work. We ask for wisdom for this church as we are in transition. We seek, Lord, we seek.

We’ve knocked, Lord, and you have opened the door. We’ve knocked, we’ve pounded even, about our pain, about our loss, about our worries—and you’ve given us this, this relief, this consolation, this hope and contentment. Thank you.

But sometimes we knocked and we received this, this increase of pain, this separation or death, this fulfillment of our worry.

We trust that you love us as a father does his children. Though we aren’t always sure of the immediate answer, we know the ultimate answer comes from your loving heart. So we knock this morning.

We knock about the pain in our Church body—for those who are sick or care for those who are sick. We knock on your door for those with loss, that you would comfort them and remind us to come to comfort also. We knock on your door about our nation and world, our angry citizens in this election. We knock about war and strife and refugees. Peace, Lord, we knock for peace.

We’ve asked you, Lord, for salvation, we’ve sought relief from our guilt, we’ve knocked on your door for redemption—and you’ve given us this, this Jesus, this substitution for us, this death for our life.

Thank you for keeping your promises.

Amen

31 Days of Aging Gracefully: Day 20 — Hanging On

I am hanging onto worship these days. In as many ways and places as I can find. The older I get, the more intrinsic it becomes to who I am. I think that’s how it’s supposed to happen, to tell you the truth. We’re slow learners, we human creatures. It takes us a lifetime to realize who we are and to whom we belong. As I move through my days, I am more aware than ever of the presence of God, maybe most especially in the details and the humdrum of life. But also, of course, where you might expect to find God.

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For me, a primary place is at the Table, in the eucharist. I dearly wish we were part of a community that celebrated the Lord’s Table every week, but since we are not, I relish that first Sunday experience. I am particularly drawn to communion by intinction — going forward to receive a piece of bread and then dipping it in a shared cup. Something about the movement brings a deeper level of worship for me — an involvement of all the parts of me, I guess.

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Most weeks, the music of our Sunday services is also a primary point of connection for me, a time of worship that moves me to a different place somehow. Again, I think it’s because of the body involvement. We stand for a lot of our singing and that gives us a bit more freedom to move gently with the rhythm or to lift hands with the words (though not many of us do that; we do have Swedish roots in our denomination, after all). I had someone say, almost snidely, that most of the time an opening set of songs is designed to make us ‘feel good.’ I beg to differ. I think music can bring us to worship faster than words. And when you combine good melody and rhythm with good words — well, then — what’s not to love?

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I also move into worship quite naturally when I’m at the beach, looking at the water. The ocean has always spoken to me of God, invited me to ‘bow the knee,’ and express both my gratitude and my awe. As long as I’m able to get there, I want to see the ocean every week — preferably more than once in a week!

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The Word is a place where worship happens, too. Both the word written and the word spoken. But maybe most of all, the Word as a living, breathing presence in my thoughts and actions. The Spirit is that Word for a Christian, bringing to mind written words, ideas, groans. And faces, names, situations for whom I need to be praying. And prayer for me does not look like it once did. I talk some. But I listen more. And I visualize more. I also do a brief examen, or praying backwards through my day, as I drift off to sleep. All of that, as well as the time I spend reflecting on directees before I meet with them, the times I say ‘thank you’ for the gifts that are mine, the times that I am obedient to that nudge inside that says, “write her a note,” or, “call that one and go to tea,” or “find a way to say you’re sorry.” All of that is communion, which is one of the dearest kinds of worship for me.

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And, of course,  I am hanging onto those morning walks which bring me directly into the presence of our God with each step, no matter how hard I’m breathing as I climb those hills! I took this shot of the sun just peeking over the southwest coastline today, at about 7:10 a.m. And here’s what I love about it. I was standing here — in the middle of a very steep, vacant lot, chuck full of gopher holes and weeds.

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Unsightly, rough, and yet . . . the place where I breathe in the beauty of our new neighborhood more fully than almost anywhere else. The place where I pause to worship every day. Go figure.

Worship can happen anywhere, can’t it?

Where do you worship most freely/easily?

Pentecost — One Week Late!

DSC04430As I noted in today’s newsletter (you can subscribe below), this is a crazy-making time in our lives. We’ve got a major move underway and a big family vacation right in the middle of it all. And I’m still (at least, partially) in recovery mode from several weird medical experiences of the past few months. So this post is about a week later than I had hoped it might be.

Through it all, we keep on truckin,’ by the grace of God and a whole lotta stubborn determination. One week ago we traveled south to be present for our middle daughter’s oldest son’s confirmation. Wesley is 17, just finished his junior year in high school and is contemplating college, right around the corner. How in the heck did that happen? Wasn’t he just a tiny kid who looked almost exactly like his mama?

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While we were there, we managed to sneak in basketball games for each of Wesley’s two younger brothers and I had the shopping joy of browsing a JC Penney, a store which my town hasn’t had for years. They have definitely upgraded their women’s clothing section!!

But the true highlight of the weekend was that Confirmation Service. We always love worshipping at Knox Presbyterian in Pasadena CA, and are regularly inspired by their creative worship and solid preaching. It’s been a good home for our kids and that makes this particular set of parents and grandparents very partial and very grateful.

It was Pentecost Sunday — a great day for welcoming young adults into full membership of the church. Two of the five kids were also baptized — a wondrous splashing of water from a beautiful wooden font.

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But the standout surprise moment for us happened during the children’s sermon. Pastor Matt invited the confirmands and about 3 of the littler kids to take hold of round, disc like objects which he had stashed up front. They were in shades of red, orange and yellow and as the kids began to handle them, I could see that they were circles of crepe paper streamers.

And here’s what we did with them. The kids tossed them out as far as they could, then the congregants picked them up and tossed them behind themselves until the back pew was reached. Then the back row tossed them toward the front until all the rolls were completely unspooled. It looked fabulous!

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Then we were instructed to raise those streamers above our heads and stomp our feet as fast as we could. “And that,” said Pastor Matt, “is just a small picture of what it must have been like when the Spirit showed up at Pentecost.” Wind and fire. Oh, YEAH!

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It was the perfect set-up for the kids’ vows and the gentle reading of a piece of their own personal credos, each one reading a portion that wove together into a modern version — a confirmation student version! — of the Apostle’s Creed. 

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At the end of the service, some helpful ‘stage hands’ moved forward a large white easel and a table spread with colored (washable) paints. And during the singing of the last hymn, we were invited to come forward, dip our thumbs into red, orange or yellow paint and make a mark on the sketched-in flames drawn on the easel.

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Everyone was involved, a bodily experience of community that I found profoundly moving.

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It’s not the most gorgeous piece of art you’ll ever see, but it is a lovely representation of this particular fellowship of believers and their commitment to be in this thing together.

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In the quiet space after the service, I snapped a photo of the finished flames, set against the draped cross. And I thanked God for this motley, crazy thing called ‘the church.’ We are far from perfect, but sometimes . . . sometimes, we get it right.

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Joining this with Jennifer, Lisha, Laura.

An Advent Prayer: Week Four, 2014

We were looking at Mary this morning in worship. A POWERFUL sermon by Pastor Jon Lemmond, and I was asked to lead in community prayer. I am out of practice, that is for sure! But I’m grateful for the opportunity to think through the text and then pray in light of it.

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A Prayer for Advent 4 — 2014
written by Diana R.G. Trautwein
for worship at Montecito Covenant Church
December 21, 2014, 10:00 a.m.

We’re almost there, Lord.
Almost.

We’ve walked through this season of waiting,
this season of songs in a minor key,
and we’re grateful for it.

This year, more than many, feels heavy,
confusing, and terribly sad.
The world around us is rife with tension,
with pain and loss and too many people living with heartache and fear.

And some of those suffering are friends inside this circle,
sisters and brothers of our community.
Some of that heartache and fear are even inside of us.

So these four weeks that we set aside
to wait, to look for your coming,
to remember the story that centers us —
these four weeks are a gift
in the midst of all that is not right,
all that still needs the redeeming work
of a Savior.

But now the end of Advent is in sight,
just a few more days until Christmas
and oh! — we want to be ready this time.
We want to be ready
for that tiny baby,
for that holy family,
for those shepherds and wise men,
for those heavenly singers,
the ones that lit up the night sky
with a song of good news!

So on this day, Lord,
on this fourth Sunday in Advent,
as we wait here together,
in this space that is so lovely,
with these people whom we care about,
will you help us to look for that angelic light?
And to look for it with hope,
and with expectation,
and most of all, with grateful hearts.

Yes, Lord — in the midst of the busyness,
the gift-wrapping and the baking,
the family gatherings and the carol-singing,
in the midst of our own personal struggles and worries,
will you help us to
hang onto hope?
To grab hold of gratitude?

We confess that sometimes we forget.
We forget to say ‘thank you,’
to slow down,
to look up,
to look around
and tell you and one another
that we are grateful.
We are so very grateful for this story of ours.

We are thankful for its life-changing power,
and we are thankful for its grittiness.
For ours is a story that fairly reeks of
real life — life as we know it,
life as we live it,
and as we see it in the world around us:
families living under oppression,
poverty,
homelessness,
the murder of innocent children,
an unexpected, even scandalous pregnancy.

And this is the story that you — our Great God,
Creator of the Universe —
this is the story that you
deliberately chose
to step right into.

You chose to experience this life,
this human life here on planet earth,

in all its crazy mixed up-ness.

And you chose a girl like Mary,
and a man like Joseph to be the ones
who would help to tell the story,
to live the story.

So we thank you for these good people,
these good parents.
And we ask you to open our hearts,
settle our minds,
and learn what they have to teach us.

Today, we want to learn from Mother Mary,
from that wisp of a girl who
was braver than she knew,
that girl who was pleasing to you,
the one who lay on the straw
and pushed a King out into this world
on a  dark and lonely night,
far from her home.

As we learn from her today,
help us to remember that Jesus learned from her, too.
She was his first teacher, after all,
the one who helped him to grow up,
the one who walked this earthly road with him, right to the end.
I think she has a lot to teach us.
Help us to be good learners today.

And help us to walk into Christmas with open hands and open hearts,
to follow Mary’s example,
and to let you be born in us,
again and again.
“Let it be unto us according to your word.”

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Prayer for the Second Sunday in Advent

I wrote this prayer for community worship in 2009. And then I folded it into a small, home-copied book of community prayers that I gave as gifts to the members of our congregation when I retired at the end of 2010. Periodically, I am going to publish those prayers in this space. If anyone wishes to use any of them in worship, just let me know. Please do not print and distribute without written permission from me. Thank you.

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We had just listened to the beautiful song about Joseph, “A Strange Way to Save the World,” written by Mark Harris.

 

“A strange way to save the world,” indeed.
If we’re really honest with you and with ourselves, Lord God, we don’t completely ‘get’ what you’ve done for us in the coming of Jesus.

We get pieces of the puzzle, and we celebrate joyously what our limited imaginations can grasp.

But we, too, can easily join the chorus of,

            “Why him?”  “Why here?”  “Why her?”

And I, for one! (and probably many others in this room might join me in this) I am very often one to second-guess what angels have to say!

I try, and fail, to wrap my mind around

            the mystery of the incarnation,

            the mystery of salvation,

            the mystery of faith itself,

and I second-guess everything … a lot!

It sometimes seems like a highly visible, high and mighty, fully-grown military leader extraordinaire might fill the bill as savior a whole lot better than a red-faced, squirming, squalling very needy, tiny baby,
who makes his grand entrance on the scene
     with no one but animals and shepherds 
     and dirt-poor parents for company.

And when my second-guessing takes me down that particular road, it’s time for me…
     to stop, to slow down, to step back,
     to breathe in and breathe out, and be still.

Still enough to hear your voice of love through all the garbage in my head.

Still enough to allow your Holy Spirit to re-capture my imagination.

Still enough to remember that You are God and I am not.

To remember :

            that you always do things in unexpected ways,
            that you continually confound those who are wise in                           their own eyes,
            that you choose to make yourself visible in
                                             the weak, the lost, the little, the least;
                       that you are not in the business of taking over the world by force;

            you are in the business
                  of wooing your human creatures
                  in ways that are subtle and strange, surprising and mysterious.

And for that, we most humbly say, “Thank you.”
And for that, we most humbly ask, “Woo us, O Lord.”

For we’re here in this place today, God, to say that
            we need a Savior, we need a healer,
            we need a companion on the way.

Many of us are dreading these days ahead –
            we’re missing people from our family circle, through illness or death or divorce;
            we’re struggling with illness and pain ourselves;
            we’re tired of the overhype and the overkill;
            we’re broke and we’re frightened about the future;
            we’re struggling to find our place in the world and we don’t quite know where to put our feet next;
            we’re facing into exams and papers due and not enough time or energy to do any of it;
            we’re facing the harsh reality of aging, failing bodies and we yearn for heaven.

We’re a mixed up, crazy bunch here, Lord.
And we truly don’t ‘get it’ a lot of the time.
BUT – we deeply desire to get YOU.

Through all the questions and all the wrestling, and all the sighing and all the wondering – we want you.

We want you to be – in us and through us – the God who surprises people with grace.

We want you to be – in us and through us – the God who welcomes the stranger with words of hope and peace.

We want you to be – in us and through us – the God who comes to us as one of us, tiny and squalling, poor and needy.

The one who cries tears of compassion over our lost-ness.

The one who heals our diseases and feeds our souls.

The one who lives a fully human life,

            and dies a fully human death,

            and who is resurrected by the power of Divine Spirit,

and who will come again to bring justice and mercy where justice and mercy are due.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!  Amen.

Love and Fear

“There is only one metric for discipleship, only one call: to go beyond being polite, subdued, civil and nice to practicing real, even dangerous, love.” – Pastor Don Johnson, in this morning’s sermon, “Sifted,”
based on 1 John 4:7-21

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Twenty-nine times in fourteen verses — that’s how often the apostle John uses the worn-out, overused, mostly ignored word, “love,” in the 4th chapter of his first epistle.

Twenty-nine times.

I think this guy believes what he says, you know?

And I think he has the street cred to back up his instructions, his analysis, his hopes, his commands.

You remember John, don’t you? The ‘beloved’ disciple, one of three pulled out for special events, the one to whom Jesus gave responsibility for his mother while he was dying on that cross, the one who stayed around through the whole awful crucifixion scene and then showed up early at the empty tomb and immediately believed? 

Yes, I think this man’s words can be trusted. I think John knows whereof he speaks. 

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So from our perch in the balcony this morning (it’s where the scooter fits best), I sat and pondered this tableau of sifting things — fish net, colander, strainer. And as we moved through the sermon, I could see — again! — that the one thing Jesus uses to sift the wheat from the chaff in our souls is love. 

Nothing else works, you see. Only love can separate us from all those things that get in the way of deep and true relationships, that keep us from living out the peace and justice that God asks of us, that infiltrate our spirits and keep us suspicious, reactive, judgmental and jealous. Only love.

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We’ve heard that word so often that most of the time, we don’t even think about what it might mean when we see it, hear it, think it.

What does it truly mean to love? To choose love, to practice love, to live in love? Where does it come from? How do we grow it in ourselves?

It is, after all, the one thing that Jesus commands us to do, right? Love God, love one another.

And John picks up the song right where Jesus left off. Pastor Don outlined for us the powerful truths that are buried in this long list of ‘love’ words in 1 John 4 and the ones that stood out to me are these: 

Love comes from God because God is love.

God is therefore the source of love, we are the reflectors of it.

God chooses to use us as instruments of God’s love in our interactions with one another.

Our love for one another is the primary — perhaps even the only — way in which those who do not yet know God can see God at work in the world.

The clearest demonstration of love ever let loose in this world is Jesus.

When love takes over, fear flees.

Loving God and loving others are non-negotiables.

Even though I wasn’t feeling particularly well this morning, I knew I needed to hear this sermon, to ponder it and pray through it and learn from it. For lots of reasons, but primarily because of my own ongoing battle with anxiety and worry. That particular journey is a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kinda trip in my life, and I needed to think again on these words: “Perfect love casts out fear.”

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When you think about it, fear is at the bottom of a whole lot of ugly, scary things in this world. Every bomb dropped, warrior wounded, child enslaved, bit of food hoarded — all of it comes back to being afraid of something. Afraid there won’t be enough, afraid we’ll lose face, afraid we won’t get all our wants/needs met, afraid of the nameless/faceless ‘enemy,’ wherever and whoever they are.

I’ve been afraid a lot lately — afraid I’ll never walk right again, afraid I’ll be dependent on others forever, afraid I’ll be . . . what? Defective? Hobbled? Less than?

And yet, I don’t believe that about friends of mine who deal with disabilities of one kind or another. I see them for who they are, I value their insights and their gifts. So what am I truly afraid of?

Maybe that I’ll be less than what I’ve been before. Maybe that I’ll fail to measure up to some invisible, impossible standard of perfection that hangs over my head. Maybe that no one will love me if I’m not ‘together.’ Maybe that I do not and will not love myself if I’m not ‘performing’ the way I think I should. Maybe that God won’t love me if I’m not working hard.

Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere.

I am still doing battle with that ancient enemy, that old heresy, the one that goes like this:

Salvation is to be earned.
Worth is to be proven.
What I do for God and for others is what will force God to love me and will make me more acceptable to myself, too.

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And that is crazy-making thinking, you know? Scroll back up to the list I wrote out from chapter 4. John spells it out, plain as day. LOVE COMES FIRST, God loves us, we respond in love, God’s love flows through us to others, and the pattern is repeated.

Only, we’re really, really lousy at this thing. Just reading through the comments section at some of the more public blogging sites proves that. We can’t even be civil, much less move beyond civility to love. We so often let fear win, don’t we? Way too often.

So tonight, at this end of the day, I want to start again. Again. I want to ask for the blessing and I want to be open enough to receive it. I want to hold my hands and my heart open and let the love of God flow into and through me. I want to live in love, not in fear.

In LOVE, not in fear.

How about you?

Trial by Fire – No, Really – TRIAL BY FIRE – A Deeper Church

As we’re celebrating our new look over at A Deeper Story, some of us got to double up on our story-telling. Today, I’m on the Church Channel . . .

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There were days in my pastoral life when I wanted to chuck it. Days when politics and personalities joined forces to quench the Spirit, when trivia took up more space on the calendar than truth, when frustration and fatigue invaded body and soul. No doubt about it, parishioners (and pastors) can be difficult, demanding, prickly and pervasively apathetic.

The church is not a perfect organism. How can it be? It’s made up of human beings!

But sometimes, those very same human beings can rise to the occasion. Sometimes they can look and act like exactly who they are as members of The Body of Christ. And when that happens, all you can do is take a deep breath and watch as miracles unfold.

Just over four years ago, I was privileged to watch such a miracle during a time of deep crisis in our community, a time when grace showed up, despite all kinds of reasons why it could have called in sick!

On a late November Thursday afternoon, the wind blew hot and wild. I had just said goodbye to the last of a dozen women gathered in my foothill home for a planning session. As I tucked her into her car, I looked around and said, “I hate this kind of weather! It’s too hot, the wind is too high and it feels eerie.”

Just minutes later, the phone rang: “Fire in the next canyon! Get ready to move out!” That very morning, the senior pastor had flown east to conduct a family funeral. I was now point-person for a terror-filled emergency in our community, and our own home was in the line of fire.

So was the church.

Staff who were still on campus evacuated a few things and then were sent down the hill by police and fire personnel. Members of our congregation who lived in the faculty housing for our neighbor, Westmont College, were forced to leave everything behind, fleeing for their lives to local hotels and over-crowded homes and shelters. My husband and I drove south a few miles to sleep at our son’s for the duration, and I began trying to gather church leadership for prayer and planning.

Throughout that long first night, it became clear that we had been hit hard . . .

Please follow me over to A Deeper Church to read through the rest of this story . . .

Doubters Welcome Here

DSC01761 They call this week “Low Sunday.” It’s the Sunday after the biggest feast in the Christian year, and every associate pastor in the world knows about it. This is a Sunday when associates are often asked to take the pulpit, providing an opportunity for the lead pastor to take a breather after the heavy push of Lent and Easter. And our fine associate stepped right up today.*

On the Orthodox calendar, this Sunday — which comes 8 days after Easter — is also known as the Sunday of St. Thomas, and the usual passage in their lectionary is the very one we used today. We have devised our own lectionary for this past school year, working through the gospel of John, and we are almost to the end. Serendipitously, Pastor Jon worked through these six verses from the end of chapter 20 in this morning’s meditation.

Here are John’s words, in The Message:

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.” But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

Anyone who’s ever been to church knows this passage, right? That infamous stretch of scripture which has given rise to the descriptor, ‘doubting Thomas?’  How about ‘doubting Diana?’ Or ‘doubting _______ (fill in your own name?’ Because we all struggle with doubt, don’t we?

There are days when I not only don’t know what to believe, but I don’t know IF I believe much of anything at all. And almost everyone I’ve ever walked with on this following-after-Jesus-journey will admit to similar periods of wrestling, of questioning.

Madeleine L’Engle used to call it viral atheism, like a bout of illness. 

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Barbara Brown Taylor’s most recent book, ‘Learning to Walk in the Dark,’ speaks of her wrestling and wondering, of her deep desire to re-define the whole idea of darkness. She asserts that the darkness fairly shimmers with the presence of God Almighty, reminding me that God inhabited the darkness in the opening words of Genesis 1, long before any of the glorious universe we live in was even created.

Yes, there are good things to be discovered in the dark. And maybe, just maybe, doubt is the doorway to some of those good things.

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Today, Pastor Jon also referenced Mother Theresa’s writings, writings culled from her personal journals, writings in which she, too, talked about doubt and an often overwhelming sense of God’s absence.

Interesting, isn’t it? My own devotional reading, conversations I’ve had with a wide variety of people — both IRL and online, and the sermon this morning were all connected, touching on the same basic topic, and providing a week of deep personal encouragement for me.

Why? Because I’m beginning to think that I may be in very good company indeed when I admit to doubt. And now, I find myself wondering what there is to be learned from this particular season of walking in the dark.

Thomas is a fine teacher, that’s for sure. He’s a toucher, is Thomas. A believer in the flesh, the in-your-face presence of another to confirm what his mind struggles to hang onto. He wants to put those hands on the scars of his Savior. He needs to see with his eyes, and touch with his fingers.

The hard part is that Thomas had to wait a while for his Resurrection experience, didn’t he? His friends celebrated right away — they heard and they saw and they touched. But Thomas was absent on that first remarkable day, for some reason, missing in action.

And hearsay was not going to cut it for this man. No way, no how.

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When they gathered again, on that eighth day, Thomas made sure that he was there. And when Jesus appeared — in that mysterious, other-worldly way of his — he turned those laser-like eyes directly in Thomas’s direction.

Read that paragraph in the gospel reading one more time.

Do you hear any word of critique in Jesus’s invitation to Thomas? I don’t. He looks right at him and invites him to come and touch, to come and see for himself.

Caravaggio’s depiction of this scene was on our screens this morning. Look at this painting. Do you see how dramatic this encounter must have been? Look at how the hand of Jesus grips the wrist of Thomas so firmly, directing his fingers straight into that scarred chest.

No wonder Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!” Here is the proof he longed for, the touch he needed.

And then Jesus says something rather amazing. Amazing because I believe that Jesus was speaking those next words directly to me. And to you. And to any disciple who did not have the gift and the privilege of touching the resurrected body of the Lord:

“Blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

I cannot touch that wound in the side of Jesus, nor the nail marks in his wrists. But there are other wounds in this body of his, aren’t there?  

So, I wonder where are the scars that need touching today? Because I believe that invitation given to Thomas is wide open for me, right here, right now. “Diana — are you wondering? Are you struggling? Then, come. Touch my side. Touch my hands.”

Here is where I am finding the wounds of the Savior these days: 

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This is the invitation for me right now. She is old. She is frail. She is blind and deaf and increasingly dumb, as words are harder and harder to find. So the touching of the wounds in this place is a primary point of ministry and of obedience these days; not one I chose, but one that is right in front of me, nonetheless. 

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She loves the ocean and she loves to take drives and she enjoys eating pizza once in a while. So today, in the middle of this current bout with doubt, with all this wondering and wrestling, I find myself  looking for the wounds and trying my best to tend them a little.

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We wrestle the walker into and out of the car and we sit across from one another at California Pizza Kitchen. And slowly, with lots of waiting in between, I hear pieces of her heart. I hear the words of old gospel songs. And I hear the phrases that she latches onto with all her might, phrases to keep her going during this terrible time of confusion and loss:

“The Lord’s been good.”

“We’ll just keep praying and believing.”

“Life is like a mountain railway . . . blessed Savior there to guide us.” 

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And so I am refreshed.

I am reminded that Jesus welcomed Thomas, doubts and all.

And Jesus welcomes me, too. 

You can read the full text of Pastor Jon Lemmond’s excellent sermon here.

Joining with Michelle, Jen, Jennifer & Laura this week:

What’s In a Name?

It’s been quiet around here of late. I’ve written around the blogosphere at several different places in the last few weeks, but not terribly often here, in my space, just writing for me, and whoever might stop by to see whatever words I’ve gathered.

We had a quiet weekend, celebrating Dick’s birthday in several small gatherings. On his actual day, just he and I went out for lunch and to a matinee. On Saturday, our son and his family surprised us with a drop-in, take-out dinner from our favorite local Mexican hang-out. And on Sunday, after church, we met our eldest daughter and her husband and youngest son at BJ’s in Ventura. We love s t r e t c h i n g birthdays out as long as we can — and three days was just about right.

My guy was hungry for ribs, and BJs never disappoints. And to finish things off very well indeed, he was served his own individual Pazookie, complete with candle! Do you know what a Pazookie is? Just one of the divinest desserts ever invented, that’s what. A freshly baked cookie (several choices – he picked peanut butter), fresh from the oven, topped with a scoop of Haagen Daaz vanilla. Heaven in a small aluminum pan, that’s what.

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The drive south took us past this lovely spot, looking down on Summerland Beach. The day was breezy and the water a little bit wild — always fun to see. And somehow, the celebratory mood of day and meal and family seemed fitting and right after a profoundly moving worship experience earlier in the day.

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This was our fabulous worship band-of-the-week jamming after the service was over. Our Director of Worship Arts, Bob Gross, planned a perfect combination of songs for the theme of the day, including a masterful arrangement (his own) of,  “Lord, I’m Amazed by You” with The Doxology. The entire opening sequence brought me to tears more than once — filled as it was with what we do best: contemporary and traditional music, both poured through the inventive mind of Mr. Gross. We sang that old favorite, “Holy, Holy, Holy” this way – verse 1, totally a cappella (and we can SING the harmony in our community!), verse 2, full band with quiet percussion, verse 3, up a key, adding the most moving slow roar of the drums I’ve ever experienced, and verse 4, straight ahead and gorgeous. Oh, my.

DSC01241As always, the music, the prayer, the readings from Old Testament and New coordinated well with the preaching text of the morning, which this week was taken from the last eleven verses of John 16.

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God spoke powerfully through Pastor Jon about what it means when we pray in the name of Jesus. Here are a few highlights from that passage:

“My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name . . . I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God . . .  A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me . . . I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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These few verses contain some mighty huge ideas, ones that linger and permeate. Ideas like these:

The name of Jesus is strong, redemptive, life-changing. It is not magical.

There will be suffering in this life — which should come as a surprise to precisely no one. But because of Jesus, because we are given the inestimable gift of praying in his name, we are never alone, no matter what. 

Praying is not about words alone. In fact it is more often about silence . . . or it is experienced in action. We pray in Jesus’ name whenever we offer comfort/aid/solace/provision for another.

We pray with our bodies, not just in them. WE are the continuation of the Incarnation as we allow the Spirit of our Lord to work through us, as we live out what it means to be the Body of Christ. 

Praying in the name of Jesus touches on one of the foundational truths of the Christian faith — we serve a Triune God, Father, Son, Spirit — One in Three, Three in One. 

We do not ask Jesus to pray for us, so as to somehow buffer the space between us and God the Father. Too much of the church has painted a picture of a scary God, one that Jesus saves us from, a God that cannot be approached by the likes of us. But Jesus says clearly and beautifully, “. . . I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you  . . . “

“Take heart,” Jesus says. Immediately after predicting that all his friends will desert him in his hour of need, that they themselves will have their share of trouble. “Take heart,”  he says. TAKE HEART?  Yes. And not only that, but because of that name, that powerful name, they — and we — will have peace, the kind of peace that makes room for this truth: the One in whose name we pray has overcome the world.

I carried these pieces of grace with me as we drove down the coast, as we laughed and ate a good lunch with our daughter’s family, as we came back home and prepared for the week ahead. Turns out there’s a lot, a LOT, in a Name. I am grateful

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A Sacramental Faith


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It’s been a rough week. A niggling ankle injury turned out to be a seriously shredded tendon, which may require surgery next month. In the meantime, I’m wearing a boot to try and immobilize it and encourage healing.

My mom took a nasty fall, splitting her fingers apart and bruising herself all along one side of her body. Fortunately, nothing was broken, but she is tired and more confused than ever.

My husband and I tend to take our worries out on one another, at least initially, and so we’ve been doing more than our share of sniping and growling. We’re moving back to center again, and I am glad.

I sit, with my foot iced and propped, encased in a serious boot, surrounded by too.much.stuff, all of which needs sorting. I wonder how and when to set aside enough time to do more than the basics. Meal prep, laundry, keeping appointments, writing – these seem to fill all the blanks on the calendar — and in my spirit — and there isn’t much room left. 

I went to worship almost reluctantly yesterday. We’d missed the week before and I came close to missing again. I was tired, anxious and sore, not eager to make conversation with anyone, unsure about a lot of things.

Which, of course, is EXACTLY when I need to be there, sitting and standing with the community, offering praise to God in the middle of the mess and listening for the Spirit’s breathy voice in the midst of the sanctuary. 

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As I perused the bulletin before the service began, I saw that there would be space this week for prayer and anointing. This is not a usual occurrence for us, but as soon as I saw the words, I knew why I was there.

Turns out, a lot of people had the same response.

Even after all the years that church has been part of my life, even after almost 20 years of professional leadership in the church, I am still amazed at how and when the Spirit blows across a room full of people. It stuns me every time.

And every time it happens in this particular community of believers, there is something sacramental happening in the service. Eucharist, baptism, renewal of baptismal vows, anointing.

These physical signs of spiritual truths, these tactile things — they are the pieces that the Spirit of God uses in our midst to move us, shake us out of the pews, stir our hearts. I don’t understand it, I just recognize it when I see it.
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It’s a powerful thing to see people streaming down the aisle to be touched by a pastor. We encourage prayer for healing after every single service, and very few people take advantage of those opportunities. But add oil? Make it part of the service itself?

They came by the dozens. And I went right up there with them.

The sermon leading into this event was built around a text in John 12, Mary pouring a large jar of pure, perfumed oil, spreading it lavishly all over the feet of Jesus. Pastor Don asked us to think about fragrances, how powerful they can be — for both good and ill. And the communion table featured trailing vines of jasmine, sending sweetness into the first few pews.

This is a story close to my heart. The very first sermon I ever preached in my life came from Mark’s version, and I preached on John’s text last year. (I wrote an abbreviated reflection on it during Holy Week.) And the closing line of my own reflection was right in line with yesterday’s theme: “. . . the surest sign of a true disciple is the delicious aroma that permeates every corner of the house.”

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We had two kneelers in place, two pastors with vials of oil, and we sang. Oh, how we sang. “Holy Spirit, Come,” as printed on the screens and one or two others that rose spontaneously as we listened to that Breath of Life within us.

One of the joys of our worship is the participation of lay people in the service each week — in the reading of scripture and the offering of community prayer. Yesterday’s prayer was written and offered by one of our resident poets, Professor Paul Willis, whose words always slow me down and make me think. The ones he chose yesterday were strong, muscular, maybe even hard to hear at points. But they were exactly what we needed. 

I invite you to pray them along with us as you read, because this prayer walks right with us, from the sanctuary of togetherness to the sanctuaries that we inhabit all around the city in the days between our gatherings. And those sanctuaries — our homes, places of employment, dorm rooms, school classrooms — these are reminders, too. Reminders that we are, indeed, a sacramental people, body, soul and spirit. . . of a piece.

Lord, so often we are satisfied with mere deodorant
to cover up our stinking selves. 
What would it mean to learn a new fragrance,
to be a new fragrance,
to offer that fragrance to you? 
What would it mean to take pure nard
from the farthest reaches of the Himalayas
and to pour it lovingly over your feet—the feet of our Savior? 
What would it mean to bathe ourselves from head to toe
in the fragrance of our Savior’s blood?

Lord, make us each,
remake us each,
into that aroma which will consecrate us,
each one,
into that individual fragrance of holy service
you have uniquely set out for us,
each one of us,
a path of service and holiness
that you have marked out for each of us,
whether that path lead into the High Sierra
or into the lower East Side of Santa Barbara,
whether it lead to the front of the classroom or to the back,
whether it lead to changing laws in the legislature
or changing diapers in the nursery.

Lord, right now we’re stinking it up. 
We always have been. 
Fill us with your redeeming fragrance,
and let us offer it back to you. 
Amen.
            — Paul Willis, February 9, 2014

IMG_3918Sunlight through the poppies when we had lunch with ‘the moms’ after church.

Linking today with Michelle, Laura, Jen and Jennifer

 


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