Can you hear Me NOW?

Can you hear Me NOW?
A sermon for the people of God
at Greenbelt Community Church
Greenbelt, Maryland
June 16, 2019

Thank you for the warm welcome. It is good to be back here, and to worship with you. One of these days, I will have to join you and hear my dear friend Pastor G preach… perhaps someday soon!

Hear the Word of the Lord…

Proverbs 8:1-9 (The Inclusive Bible)

Doesn’t Wisdom call?
Doesn’t Understanding raise her voice?
On the hill along the road,
at the crossroads, she takes her stand;
beside the city gates of the town,
in the gates themselves, she cries out,
“Women and men, people everywhere,
I’m calling out to you!
I cry out to all of humankind!
You who are simple, learn how to make sound judgments!
To the foolish among you, use your common sense!
Listen closely, for what I say is worth hearing,
and I will tell you what is right;
for my mouth will speak the truth,
and my lips hate to lie.
Everything I say is right;
none of it is twisted or crooked.
All of it is plan-spoken to those who understand,
clear to those seeking knowledge.”

 

====Please pray with me====

Holy and loving One,
We so often do not listen,
We so frequently do not ask,
And we really don’t like a change in our personal agendas…
But you, Divine One,
Know us so well.
Capture our hearts
Get our attention
And may the words I offer be in tune
With your heart
And Your holy Word.
Amen

====================

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© 2005 Masahide Kanzaki, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

While I was a music student at Ohio State, we analyzed various scores and printed music for our theory and composition classes. Sometimes we picked the music apart as a class, a kind of joint venture of a musical autopsy. Other times, we were handed a portion for an exam, and were expected to dissect it on our own. Complex or simple, I had a deep appreciation for the great works we studied. But the music that never failed to amaze me were the ones that were written when the composer was… deaf.

Their inner muse was so strong, so well-developed, that though they were deaf, they could create symphonies and string quartets and never hear a note of it. The works of composers like Beethoven and Smetana, Fauré and Vaughn Williams stunned me when I realized that they never heard them performed.

They never stopped listening. Even when they could not hear.

  • Our texts this morning invite a new kind of listening. They ask us, even though we may be tone deaf to God’s speaking to us, that we try and listen anyway!
  • Whether it is seen or known, the Scriptures this morning invite us to HEAR the words of truth, to become aware of the voice of Wisdom and Understanding.
  • Our texts this morning invite us to engage with the Created world around us in new ways. To see. To hear. To praise. To worship. To respond.

The problem is that we are, so often, slogged down in the everyday drone of life. And it drowns out our attempts to love and follow God!

Gotta pay the bills
Gotta pick up the kids
Gotta do the laundry
Gotta fix dinner
Gotta get groceries
Oops the cat threw up… gotta clean that up.

And then as every parent knows… the end of the school year hits:
Gotta get teacher gifts
Gotta help the kids study for exams
Gotta get poster board for that last project
Gotta find that band shirt for the concert (And does it still fit? That was Christmas!)
Gotta get good seats at graduation
Gotta sign the kids up for camp
Gotta find a hotel for vacation

AND… if you are dealing with a chronic illness…
Gotta get a scan and blood test
Gotta see this specialist
Gotta try a new medication
Gotta
Gotta
Gotta

We are on this treadmill existence, going nowhere fast!

The Divine invites us –
To reprogram
To reboot
To re-engage with the world around us!

Listen! Think! Look! Praise!

Listen! God says: “Doesn’t wisdom call?”
Think!  God suggests: “Doesn’t Understanding raise her voice?”
Look!   God’s people respond: “When I look up at your heavens…
Praise! God’s people sing: “How majestic is your name in ALL the earth!”

2012-02-16 17.01.12
The *@%$!! Washington Beltway

That’s not “normal” mode for human beings. Well… I know it isn’t for me. I might do OK at the “Praise” part on Sunday mornings. But by Tuesday afternoon’s rush hour… um… well… there are different words on my tongue.

Charles Hummel published a booklet in 1961 titled The Tyranny of the Urgent.  In this small volume, he suggested that there is always tension between things that are urgent and things that are important—and far too often, the urgent wins.

Yes. Far too often, the urgent wins. Anyone who has ever had their tasks changed at work because the Boss says, “I gotta have this today” knows exactly what Hummel meant!

We who are locked into our smart phones and Outlook calendars, and have trouble remembering to PRIORITIZE what God thinks is important… Can we learn to not just do the next thing?? Not just respond to the next email, the next tweet, the next voicemail?

I’m not there yet. But I’m working on it. I’m really bad at “unplugging” actually, but I keep trying. Because how can I hear “the still, small voice” of God when I’m not listening for it? “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW???” God asks…

Um… nope. Not really…

migration
More seagulls than people!

Every year, I look forward to vacation, when I try to reconnect with the created world around me. Quite honestly, I am looking forward to getting away… Before I see you again in July, we will journey to a place where there are more seagulls than people. Where the loudest noise I hear is the wind in the sea grass and palm branches, and the biggest decision I have to make is where I will take my afternoon nap… on the beach? …in the hammock? …or at poolside?

IMG_8226
Sunset over a tidal marsh.

And as my blood pressure goes down, and freckles reappear on my nose… I breathe deeply and watch the day unfold at a pace that has nothing to do with the clock, and everything to do with the rhythm of sun and sand and sea. I make time at sunset to watch the birds come in to roost in the marsh, and see the shadows grow longer over the sand dunes. I hold star charts overhead and marvel at the number and intensity of the planets and constellations when the city lights are fading. I look for sea turtle hatchlings.

cropped-2014-08-07-03-16-45-1.jpg
An egret taking off over a tidal marsh.

In short, I am immersed in the physical world I can see, whether or not I can understand it. Because I don’t need to be able to explain the reasons why stars twinkle to marvel at the number of them. I can watch fireflies (or lightning bugs – whatever you call them) and not know if they are advertising for a mate or just doing what they do… blink… blink… blink…

We are far from being hunter-gatherers or shepherds like the writer of the Psalms. But even if you ARE a botanist or an astrophysicist, you can still marvel at the way that our planet moves from season to season, and sustains humans and animals.

Terry Tempest Williams in her book When Women Were Birds wrote:

Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.

The world is meant to be celebrated! BUT – also to be cared for… The Psalmist was aware that the entire Created world was under humanity’s dominion. Everything in the air, the sea, and on the land was given to humanity to care for…

How aware are we of our stewardship…
When plastics pile up in our landfills and pollute our oceans?
When we depend on fossil fuels in increasing ways?
When we do not ensure that the vulnerable, the weak and the hurting have clean water, clean air, and enough food?
When Flint, Michigan still does not have clean water after 5 years…
When there are famines in one part of the world, and food waste in the other?

Doesn’t Wisdom call?
Doesn’t Understanding raise her voice?
Doesn’t the Holy One call to us, asking, “Can you hear Me NOW?”

Today –

When you walk out into the warm sunshine or cope with a sudden summer thunderstorm,

Who will you thank?
Who will you praise?
Whose heart will speak to yours?

Can you hear Me NOW? God asks…

May our answer be… YES.

Amen.

Book Review: The End of the Island

IMG_9952In a chaplain’s world, theodicy is that delicate and difficult balance of the gut-wrenching work of understanding why the Divine allows evil and human suffering. Human as we are, there is such a temptation to distill the work of theodicy into neat little pieces. As if pain, suffering, loss and grief would EVER be done “neatly.”

Many books attempt to express this through allegory or rigid theological systems. Instead of a systematic expression, however, Tucker places his allegory in a kind of contextual theology. Thus I approached this book with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Jeffrey Tucker takes as his muse “The Happy Prince,” a children’s short story written by Oscar Wilde. (You can read it on-line here…)  In the postscript of his book he delves into some of the influences of that story in his work as a chaplain. It’s worth reading first before you delve into the topics his work contains. I would have liked him to develop his own perspective on why he thinks he might be the Prince. It would have given his story a better foundation, for this reader, anyway.

The book is organized around the narrative of an old man traveling “to the end of the island” – a journey he feels he must make as his “time is short.” The “journey” is expressed via short vignettes, spread out over several chapters, each addressing a different question as it relates to human suffering. The questions include:

  • Where is my Suffering?
  • Where am I in my Suffering?
  • Where is the Divine in my Suffering?
  • Where is my Human Support?
  • Where are my Hope and my Deliverance?
  • Re-Defining Forward Movement
  • Finding the End of the Island

On the journey, the old man meets several individuals who help him re-examine what he is experiencing, where he is going, what he hopes to find, and what other lessons might be part of his journey. I particularly liked the author’s reflections in chapter 4 on “Where is the Divine in my Suffering?” His analogy of God being in both the tidal wave and the tidal marsh were poignant and personally meaningful to me.

At first, this structure is somewhat confusing and disjointed. (Perhaps a better “How to Use This Book” section is needed?) However, because of the nature of the questions which Tucker addresses, having “space” in between the sections of the old man’s story is helpful for allowing the reader to engage and reflect. This is not a book to read at one sitting. In fact, if you rush through it, you will miss the beauty of the struggle in this journey we are all on – of life and death, of hope and discouragement, of suffering and release.

Tucker’s premise is that our life’s journeys are not about “solving” the problem of pain. It is not meant to provide simple strategies or pointers. There aren’t Bible verses to read and write down your reflections with Jesus as your Best Friend in suffering and God always bringing healing and relief. (In fairness, there were many places where I found it was easy enough to be drawn back into Scripture and journal. It just was more raw than pretty, honest than victorious.)

This book is also going to make the more conservative readers among us a tad uncomfortable, for the author invites us to dwell with the wider views of spirituality, and to engage in mindfulness practices around the journey we are all struggling through. However, you will be invited to explore fresh and new ways of walking through your own personal, painful, rough patches. And that, in itself, is enough. For God is enough.

As the author says, “The totality of all our questions will never be resolved completely. For remember, I am talking here about movement – not a neat, linear journey.”

Here’s to the messiness and the reality that God is there in the mix. Always.

*****

The End of the Island by Jeffrey C. Tucker. © 2016 Eugene, OR. Resource Publications (Wipf and Stock): Paperback, 156 pages.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Light and Shadow

Over on my 365 photos blog, I posted this picture and a poem.

I walk through this area every day, many times as I’m headed towards my car, towards home and a “normal” life… something my patients long for, dream of, and dare to believe will be theirs some day. The sudden brightness and contrasting shadows resonated immediately.

There’s many occasions on the average “day-in-the-life” of  a chaplain where I walk from the happiest of moments to the saddest, almost in the same breath. It can happen going from bed to bed, room to room, or floor to floor. If I am not self-aware, I can be slammed with the sudden change from joyous light to deepest sorrow.

Today was a day of contrasts. Of hope. Of despair. Of pushing onward towards healing. Of giving up. I felt the push-pull on my heart. In both situations, God is there. Tonight I celebrate and mourn.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, your perfect love is casting out fear… This song came to me this evening when I was reflecting on my photo-of-the-day…

Taking up the carpet

 I know it looks a little creepy, but this is mask I wore yesterday.

My husband and I decided to take up some old carpeting in our bedroom. We had moved this carpet from our first house to our present home. It didn’t owe us much. We had purchased a remnant of a neutral, densely woven, low nap carpet. It was in our family room and then our bedroom. It got a lot of heavy traffic and a good bit of cat hair. (Um.. and cat hork, too.) Even when shampooed and vacuumed, it had long since stopped looking clean.

So, it was time to say, “Buh-bye!”

Except there was this LEETLE complication… we have a king-sized waterbed.

Waterbeds, in case you don’t know, aren’t exactly easy to move. They don’t shove to one side or the other so that you can easily vacuum behind them. Or remove a carpet, for that matter. (But the comfort they give is SO WORTH the extra hassle!)

My husband, channeling MacGyver, decided that we could use a scissor jack and various cutting implements, and get the carpet and pad pulled out in sections. We did not realize that we had a much, much bigger task than we realized. Just for the record (in case you are about to try this at home…)

  1.  15 years of cat hair is a lot of cat hair… even when you vacuum what you can reach and…
  2. king-sized beds are wide and hard to reach all the way to the middle.

He ended up using not only carpet shears, but a machete, a box-cutter knife and a pole saw to pull out the carpet and pad in sections. You would not have believed its dusty, grimy state. We rolled up each section and bagged them. After several hours of hacking, jacking, cutting and stuffing, we got the carpet out. It left behind a pile of carpet fribs, dust and cat hair. My lovely self-decorated mask let me breathe without wheezing. The local dump wins the spoils. (No I would not Freecycle this because some loony would come and get this gross piece of carpeting!)

But we were really surprised at the dirt (and the smell) that came from pulling up the carpet. It had never been glued down. It had been cleaned and vacuumed frequently. (I swear I’m not a total slob.) But we were almost grossed out at the grime that appeared as we rolled and bagged the pieces. Who knew? There was all kind of stink brewing under our feet. We just never stopped to notice.

It seems to me there’s lots of times in this life that our actions, when left unexamined, can brew quite a stink. It’s a bit disquieting. But it also brings me back to my knees with a prayer…

Lord,
cleanse my heart
help me keep it real
I sure do love you
Amen.

So as God breathes new life into my heart, and renews me… I am so grateful for a breath of “fresh air” — not just in the carpeting, but in my life. This song by Darlene Zschech came to mind… it’s not new. But the words speak to me and remind me of the forgiving nature of God.

Breathe on Me by Darlene Zschech

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Love and life that makes me free.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fan the flame within me.
Teach my heart, heal my soul,
Speak the mind that in Christ we know.
Take me to your Sanctuary
Breathe on me.

Speak to me Voice of God,
Soft and still inside my heart.
Speak to me, Word of God,
Comfort, heal, restore with love.
Teach my heart, heal my soul,
Speak the mind that in Christ we know.
Take me to your Sanctuary,
Breathe on me.

A Judas moment

I never liked the story of Judas. It hit too close to home. Judas was a man of expediency, practicality and decisiveness. Judas was someone who did not want to jump through hoops when they could be avoided. Judas was passionate, deliberate, and convinced he was in the right.

In short, I am a lot like Judas.

A million different times a year, I sell out God for something I would rather do. I keep silent when I know I should speak up in disagreement. I stand by as a person loved by the Almighty is bruised, abused and battered.

Sometimes it is out of fear. And sometimes? it is embarrassment.

Fear that I would be the next one hounded and hunted down and humiliated. Embarrassed that I did not always make the right choices throughout my life, and wonder that I have any right to stand up against someone’s accuser. I know who my Accuser is – and it is not God! These days – the final days of Holy Week – are for reflection, for peace, for comfort, for confession and for wrestling with the “Judas” part of me that rises up to condemn.

During Holy Week, especially on Maundy Thursday, I squirm a little. I feel a little too much like Judas.

But… Sunday’s coming! And I will be reminded again that I am dearly, completely, utterly loved. I will hold the evidence of God’s love for me in my hands as I have Communion. I will stand beloved, forgiven, cleansed and fit for God’s use.

I will remember and celebrate. Sunday.

I will remember my sin that nailed God to the cross. Today.

Remember what is most important…

I bought a little refrigerator magnet the other day. It is one of those little “by the check-out” kind of wee gifties that frequently catch our attention. I bought it just because its message is so perfect for my life right now…

Remember What Is Most Important…
It’s not having everything go right;
it’s facing whatever goes wrong.
It’s not being without fear;
it’s having the determination
to go on in spite of it.
Remember that every day ends
and brings a new tomorrow.
Love what you do,
do the best that you can,
and always remember
how much you are loved.
Vicki M. Worsham

Pretty good stuff! It ties in with my reading in 1 Timothy this week where Paul is exhorting those who are called to lead the Church to persevere and live out their callings to the best of their ability. It reminds me that I am asked to not just “do my best” but to present God’s best to the people I meet every day.

Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor,
by love, by faith, by integrity. (I Timothy 4)

Now THAT’S really what is most important!

Deb