Sunday Prayer: Unfolding

I wrote this prayer as part of the daily offerings on RevGalBlogPals. (Original posting is HERE!) I’m cross-posting it here because it comes from my heart and spirit, not knowing all the answers, but knowing Who holds them…

Peaceroses
Chicago Peace rose in our back yard.

Holy One,

We watch things unfold,
day by day,
sometimes hour by hour,
never really knowing why or when
there will be a turn of events
or changes in our plans.

Unfolding,
slowly, gently, melding,
You help us in synchronicity
with Your Grace.

Sometimes we won’t listen.
Sometimes we bolt the other way.
Always, always, always,
There You are,
Bending out the next petal,
Subtling shading our hearts’ responses.

Unfolding,
perfectly, smoothly, humbly,
Your heart changing ours.

Unfolding…

So may it be. Always and forever. Amen.

Breakfast on the Beach

Breakfast on the Beach
A sermon for the People of God
at Bethesda United Church of Christ
April 28, 2019
Rev. Deborah Vaughn, BCC

John 21:1-14
1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.


cropped-2015-05-21-09-27-30.jpg
A shrimp boat off the coast of South Carolina. (Much bigger than the Galilean boats!)

Thank you for the warm welcome. Thank you, Valerie and choir, for leading us in praise and worship. It is good to be back here on a day like this, full of joy and celebration!

When Pastor Dee mentioned that this was “Bright Sunday,” I pondered what post-Resurrection story brought me the most smiles. I tried to think — what Eastertide scripture portion brings in the most joy and love – after all, we are not remembering a funeral! We are resurrection people! This vignette from the end of the Gospel of John just makes me smile. A fishing story to end ALL fish stories.

Fishermen love to talk about the one that got away. Or the one that was THIS big. It might have been a minnow on the hook, but it was a WHALE by the time the tale is finished.

It reminds me of the story of a man who went off to do some fishing one weekend. He had absolutely no luck. Zero. None. Nada. About half way home, he sees a fish market, and he stops and says to the owner, “hey, throw me four of those medium sized rainbow trout.” The owner says, “throw them? Why?” The man says, “Well, at least that way, I can say I caught them.”
But wait… there’s more…  
The owner says, “Oh, is your name Jim? And is your wife’s name Cathy?” Puzzled, the man answers, “yes…” the owner responded, “Ok then, Cathy called. She wants you to bring home salmon instead.”
Ba-bum-bum…

Galilee
Photo Credit: “Sea of Galilee (Kinneret; Lake Tiberius)”, © 2018 Gary Todd, Flickr | PD-CC0 | via Wylio

We know that Peter, Andrew, James and John were all fisherman when they were called to be one of Jesus’ followers. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 5, we can read about Jesus showing up on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and inviting the four to become “fishers of people.” You remember the story? They had been fishing all night, and Jesus told them to row out into deeper water, and drop their nets yet again.

Bless Simon Peter! He probably could have used a lot saltier language but he said, “Master, we have worked all night long, but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” Can you hear the eye roll? IF YOU SAY SO…

You remember what happens next? They catch so many fish that their nets begin to break, their boats began to sink, and they had to be rescued by other boats to help haul in the catch.

You would think with such as auspicious beginning that they would remember…Not just this event, but the other miracles that Jesus did. But, apparently not.

After the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem, in Matthew’s version anyway, Jesus told them to go ahead to Galilee, and he would meet them there. We do not have a time stamp, but it was probably a few weeks later when this morning’s Scripture took place.

How do we know this? It’s about 184 km or 114 miles from Jerusalem to Galilee. That is about 5 days of hard walking. Not a leisurely stroll. But because, in all likelihood, it wasn’t just “11 bros” going fishing, but their whole families and households, it was probably a two week hike, with a stop for the Sabbath. It was an intentional journey, not a casual whim.

They walked home. Walked. Probably still confused. Still debating what really happened. Just like us – you have 11 eye witnesses, and that means there are 15 versions of what happened – not to mention the debates about what it all means!
Did you see? Thomas stuck his HAND in Jesus’ side?
Mary said there was an angel!
Yeah, but the guards said there was an earthquake…

The disciples, the men and women who followed Jesus, were real people. They argued. They cried. They got tired. They got people-sick. They defended Jesus… and then denied Jesus. I think that they went home, perhaps to find answers, perhaps just to be rejuvenated by the smells and foods and sounds of home.

While we know that they traveled with Jesus all over, we don’t know how long it had been since they were home.  Have you ever journeyed back to your old school, your old neighborhood, maybe back to see family, and realize you are not the same? You don’t quite fit any more… but it’s all you know.

I think they were “disciples of amnesia.”
They had forgotten all that they had seen while traveling with Jesus. They had forgotten the improbable results. The unlikely people who would be followers of Christ.
They fell back into their old habits, their old haunts, their old occupations. They were tempted by the same old problems.

It’s like those of us who are enthusiastic gardeners and get all excited the first warm weekend of Spring. We go to the big box stores and see the baby tomato plants… and we forget that last frost is still coming. And those plants will surely die in the first cold night they are outside. Amnesia!

The disciples had amnesia.

In this morning’s passage, we hear words that are familiar from the passage I referenced earlier in Luke:

“You have no fish, have you?”

“NOooooo.” Now – I would bet – they had a few choice words more than just “NOooooo.”

But…

Nevertheless, when Jesus told them to cast the net on the other side of the boat, they did… and there were “so many fish!” And that was what jolted them out of their amnesia.

It took this huge, amazing, miraculous catch for them to do a double take and for “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (that is, JOHN), to realize that wasn’t just some kibbutzer standing on the shoreline – it was Jesus!

And Peter, bless him, was so excited that he jumped overboard and swam to the beach. John thought we needed to know that Peter fished in the buff and had to first put clothes on before he swam to shore. Ok then.

But… hear me… It took a miracle at daybreak, when they were tired, sore, and probably very frustrated, to FINALLY listen. And then to witness, with their own eyes, Jesus’ abundant gifts to them – “153 fish” – (I wonder – did someone COUNT them? John… apparently!)

onjal-machhiwad - navsari - gujarat - india
Photo Credit: “catch, onjal-machhiwad”, © 2011 nevil zaveri, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

When God invites us to breakfast on the beach… what waits for us is the abundant, overwhelming, satisfying, compassionate love of God.

Jesus didn’t chastise or scold. He didn’t say, “Now didn’t I tell you to go to Galilee? I don’t remember saying ANYTHING about fishing.” Jesus used this extraordinary circumstance to remind them of the extraordinary, over-the-top, welcoming love of God.

Friends… maybe you… like me… are not exactly receptive to the suggestions of our friends and families when we are tired and disgusted and frustrated. When we are exhausted. When our best-laid plans don’t pan out.

Maybe you… like me… are really only receptive to help when we realize we are standing there with empty hands and an empty net. Maybe you… like me… are jolted out of our amnesia to remember…

God’s faithfulness
God’s compassion
God’s people willing to show love and mercy
God’s abundant provision

As Karoline Lewis says, “The resurrected Christ will be seen in displays of abundance. The ascended Christ will be known when his disciples establish opportunities to experience abundant grace.”[1]

Not “just enough” but an ABUNDANCE! Not just a token expression of God’s love, but an ABUNDANCE!

Abundant joy.
Abundant grace.
Abundant hope.

Cast out your nets.
See what God is waiting to do through you – through Bethesda UCC – through your homes – through your places of work.
Your nets will overflow.
Thanks be to God!

[1]Lewis, Karoline. John. Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentary.© 2014, Minneapolis, MN. Fortress Press. p.255

Echoing Footsteps

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
– Alfred Lloyd Tennyson 

Our congregation is taking a “slowed-down” approach to Lent this year. Our main theme is “Restore My Soul” – finding ways to feel renewed and refreshed in the faith. We are focusing on being “un-busy.” There’s just too much in our culture that fights against a deeper, richer spiritual life.

I chose to use coloring again for my personal Lenten discipline as a means of reflection and self-expression. Especially with my current physical challenges from knee surgery, I need to be intentional in reflecting and listening to the Divine. So, I pulled out one of my favorite coloring books which has page after page of labyrinths to color. I flipped open to a fresh page and saw this:

labyrinthpast

The colors of a completed labyrinth from a previous Lent bled through the page opposite of the new labyrinth I began coloring today. I paused to wonder, “What echoes from my past am I walking with today??”

Positive or negative, challenges or success stories, I have internalized all of these past events. Some memories are faded, others push through with more of an impact. All of them are a part of me. All of them are essential to who I am and how I serve as a pastor and a chaplain. And even the hardest memories can be an asset and inform how I serve. But they also can be triggers and block me from doing my best.

Stumbling. Falling. Trying again. That’s a life that walks with Christ, day after day, year after year. Walking in the Divine’s grace and love. Always until forever.

Blessed be.

ALL the things

On Monday, I am having a knee scoped to tend to some irritations and pain I’ve been dealing with since Labor Day. As anyone knows, even “minor” surgery requires a lot of preparation. It’s been a hectic few weeks. Squeezing in extra visits to patients, and getting all the requisite paperwork filed. Then there were doctor’s visits, physical therapy sessions, and lab tests. I tried to be organized without being crazy about it.

Friday afternoon, I tied up loose ends at work, changed the message on my work phone, and signed off on my caseload. I felt pretty good, but was honest about my feelings of trepidation.

I came home to a to-do list a mile long. Laundry, cooking, groceries, and errands, plus paying bills. I also put away the last Christmas decorations! (Hey! It’s barely into Lent! That’s an accomplishment.) I started looking for the info I need for our taxes. I treated myself to a nice relaxing pedicure Saturday afternoon.

Someone said, “you look so CALM!” But inside, I was acting out Allie Brosh’s art:

cleanallthethings
(c) Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a half

Clean all the things!
File all the things!
Wash all the things!
Do all the things! ALL of them!

Yeah. I’m calm on the outside, crazed on the inside.

It’s ironic and, at the same time, fortuitous that this year’s Lenten focus is on REST. Reconnecting with the Creator God who knows us best, and understands our needs. And even commands us to rest! (Oh yeah. That.) And it’s almost funny-not-funny that in our Lenten sermon series, I am preaching on…REST.  The Divine’s sense of humor is unreal.

So for what it’s worth, there many things left undone on my to-do list. There are tasks I will have to deal with when I have a brain post-surgery later this week. And, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that will stay “un-done” until someone (possibly not even me) gets to it.

And yes. I’ll rest. And let my body do the healing work it needs to do. And be very, very intentional about finding Rest in the One who knows and loves me best.

As my burdens bury deep into my heart
And the pressure starts to suffocate my soul

Your voice calls out from the clamor
Drawing me close to where You are
I rise up out of the chaos
Fall to my knees and meet with You

My soul finds rest, my soul finds rest in You
My heart will sing in the shelter of Your wings

Rest in You, by DK Worship, featuring Andrea Folet

 

 

 

When we are dust

A woman pastor’s Hand with ground in ashes from Ash Wednesday

When we are dust…

Will our passions live on
In the hearts of those
We taught by our example?

Will anyone know
What made our very bones sing
With deep joy?

Will the dreams for our children’s
And grandchildren’s futures
Be realized?

When we are dust…

Will we have lived into
The joyous “Hallelujah!”
The holy Presence
The final rest
Our souls have waited for?

When we are dust…

It’s Star Words time!

The Three Wise Men - Matthew 2:1-12
Artist: Jesus Mafa from Cameroon.
No. Not Star Wars time. (I see you out there.)

Star Words is a concept I first learned about from Marci Glass, one of the RevGalBlogPals. She credits Reformed Worship for the seed idea.

The concept is simple: One selects (or is given) a word for the purpose of reflection and meditation for the New Year. It is based off of the story of the Magi coming to see the Christ Child. In most Christian communities, this story is part of Epiphany celebration (or the twelfth day of Christmas.) However, I think it can be part of one’s spiritual practice, regardless of your personal spirituality or religion (or lack thereof.)

Here is the text as found in Matthew 2:1-12 (CEB).

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 “You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”*

7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

* Matthew 2:6 Mic 5:2; 2 Sam 5:2

In choosing/giving a star word, there is an opportunity for reflection and even re-direction. After all, the Magi thought a new King would be born in a palace. Instead, the scholars in Herod’s court told them to go to Bethlehem. They also listened to the warnings of the Divine (even through dreams!) to not return and tell Herod where the Child was living with his family. How might the Divine give you re-direction or insight with your Star Word?

The gifts of the Magi were costly. Their intentions were pure. What would a poor workman and his wife do with all of these treasures? Perhaps initially, to pay their way to Egypt as refugees, and then later, to re-establish the family in Nazareth. What gift will you receive from learning about yourself and your Star Word?

I invite you to receive your own Star Word!

bagofwordsI’ll pick one at random from my bag of stars. It will be yours to contemplate in the New Year. You might not like the word you get… but eventually, there will be some sort of spiritual insight or affirmation from it. As I like to tell people, “the word chooses YOU!” Every year I have engaged in this practice, I have learned something about myself and have been encouraged in my personal spiritual practice. You can read about my reflections on my 2018 Star Word here!

To get your own star word:

  • leave me a comment (and I’ll reply with your word)
  • message me or respond to my posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr
  • just ask when you see me!

Here’s to the journey of wonder, contemplation and Light!


The Magi
by Godfrey Rust

Will you study these signs
as carefully
as you study the prices
in the Christmas catalogues?

Will you seek out the manger
as diligently
as you search for the right scarf
or this year’s toy?

Will you examine
your heart’s pilgrimage
and be sure towards what stable
it carries its precious gifts?

Will you be a wise fool
to find and follow
the strange star of truth
in a sky full of glittering lies?

© Godfrey Rust, godfrey@wordsout.co.uk. Used by permission.

Prayers for the whys

prayercandle

Tonight I offer
prayers for the whys
prayers for the not agains
prayers for the dying
prayers for the dead
prayers for the angry
prayers for the scared
prayers for the healers
prayers for the investigators
prayers for the grieving
prayers for the bystanders
prayers for the perpetuators of hate
prayers for the unhelpful rhetoric
prayers for the politicians
prayers for news outlets
prayers for our faith communities
prayers for the gun lovers
prayers for the gun lobbyists
prayers for the peacemakers
prayers for change
prayers for hope…

Oh God, in your mercy,
hear our prayers…