I wrote a prayer that’s over on the RevGalBlogPals site today. May the abiding Presence of Emmanuel be with you on this 4th Day of Christmas!
I wrote a prayer that’s over on the RevGalBlogPals site today. May the abiding Presence of Emmanuel be with you on this 4th Day of Christmas!
Ever have one of those days where you think you might be forgetting something? Something important?
Something REALLY important?
Some days you get by on a whole lotta luck. (And yes. I gave the truck a lot of space because doing the “hand truck slalom” was not on my to-do list today!)
Earlier this year on Epiphany Sunday, I drew my personal “star word” for 2018. I first heard of this practice from another RevGal, Rev. Marci Glass. (You can read more about it here.) For the last several years, I’ve chosen a word and used it for reflection. Just as God guided the Magi to the Christ Child, so God guides me.
This year, my word was “Balance.” My initial reaction was “very funny, God.” My second thought was, “ooohhhh, OUCH.”
This year has completely been about Balance. Balance about my health. About my family’s changing needs. About my adjustment to the day-to-day professional challenges of being a hospice chaplain. About wanting to be an advocate in the public arena. About leadership in a national non-profit. About choosing when to write and what to write about.
You can call it “chance” that I ended up with that word. But I suspect that the Spirit knew what I needed to see hanging over my desk, day in, day out. Do I have it all figured out? Am I now a truly “balanced” person? Well, no. But I can honestly say that I know now when I am out-of-balance and have to stop and get my equilibrium.
Recently, I made a decision to step back from a leadership role. There were many reasons, but the bottom line was that I recognized how out-of-balance the stress from that role was for me personally and spiritually. I’m not someone who backs down from a challenge! (If you know me at all, you’ve figured that out.) The health challenges of my body got my attention. The emotional stress reinforced it was the right decision. Self-care is sometimes very, very hard and I am too stubborn for my own good. (I write more about this here…)
I returned to the words of a song by Carolyn McDade which reminded me why I was out of balance. I was taking on more than God had called me to do.
“No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.”
It’s not selfish to make choices for your own growth and self-care. It’s not irresponsible to say “no, I’m sorry, I can’t” to a request for a very good and meaningful cause. It’s not impossible to admit you can’t handle the toxic situation you stumbled into rather blindly. And most of all, it’s not a bad thing to fulfill your obligations – until you simply can’t do it any more.
And, beloved, when you find that “sweet spot” — that place of Balance — it is very, very good. Just the way we are Created to be.
Go tell my knee,
I really don’t like landing on the floor.
So if you tell my knee,
It might straighten up and walk some more…
(apologies to Billy Ray Cyrus)
This has been a frustrating week. Frustrating in that aggressive rehab is “on hold” for several more weeks. Yes, the meniscus still has a tear. (No magical healing happening!) The effusion is back. The stiffness is back. The pain (thank the LORD for cortisone shots) is nonexistent, unless I try and do something stupid, like squat or kneel.
But the swelling isn’t “normal.” Not even an older knee that “hit the pavement.” I’m following a new regimen, and using what the orthopedist called “good old common sense.” Conservative, careful, and step by step. Home exercises, rest, ice, compression and elevation. Also regular anti-inflammatory meds, and a delicious mug of Turmeric-Ginger tea!
I’m not particularly happy with my knee at the moment, but trying not to let it color my world. There’s lots worse going on to other people in my life. I’ll be thankful for the healing process, however slow it seems, and for a doctor that listened to me. I’m hopeful we can push the bionic knee option way way way down the road.
For my own frustration level, well… I’m human. I’m learning what to crank about and what to let flow on and away. And that’s a slow, up and down process, too.
A note to all of you health care folks out there… if you want “buy in” by your patient to a new health care routine, you have to communicate! It’s something that we do in hospice all the time, and we find it makes all the difference. Teaching and re-teaching. Taking the time to answer questions and teach new skills. It’s hard to find the time because of the way that physicians are reimbursed by our current healthcare model (and I know that). But for this doctor, today… I am very thankful.
I’m so tired of ugly words and mean people. Really ugly words. And really mean people. And I’m using vague and trite-sounding words because I can’t write the string of profanities that would flow from my mouth and melt my keyboard.
I’m not kidding. That ugly. That @#*$!!! is mean.
Here’s reality: hard things come into our lives.
Here’s hope: these hard things don’t have to define you.
I’ve seen it over and over… from my work in hospice and in hospitals, in churches, in schools, in non-profits, and in corporations. Some people define themselves by the worst days of their lives. And others use those experiences to sharpen their goals and trudge on, trying again. It is so easy to be negative and complain. It’s hard to try again when you’ve failed… (Especially with the nay-sayers commenting, “Well you can try, but you know, it’s really not going to work.”)
That’s what I call “concretized thinking.” A mindset that is so determined that nothing will change, and the end result is inescapable. All possible alternatives are dismissed. Admitting you are struggling is a sign that you either “aren’t really trying” or “are a whiner.” Serious questions are ignored.
Most of what we bitch about is small potatoes. It’s inconsequential. It is not life-threatening. I confess I get caught up in this… and that I have to reboot now and then… like I did this evening.
Tonight I focused on a piece of music, with its haunting melody and lush harmonies… I listened to it with my headphones on and soaked in the beauty. I invite you to do the same!
There is tension in our world. There are unanswered questions. But… there is a way through the discord, the dissonance, the unresolvable. There is a way to breathe, dream, persevere and join with others on the same path.
And there is… at the very end… peace.
I sat down with this book of prayers on a sleeting and windy afternoon. I had a lot on my mind, and turned to the Table of Contents. There was exactly the prayer I needed: Prayer for the Courage to Speak Out Against Misconduct. I was stunned and moved to tears. Who could have known??
As I paged through this small volume, I found several other prayers that touched a chord, either in remembering challenges in ministry or parenting, or in moments of celebration and joy. I was encouraged. I felt bolstered in facing a difficult “dragon” ahead of me that day.
In the Foreword, Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli captured my sentiments:
“…for anyone who has been in a place of pain, grief, stress, or challenge and had a community truly holding you in prayer, you know that the prayers and loving thoughts of others have a mysterious way of buoying your life through the storm.” (p. ix)
This book celebrates the journeys of women: leaders, CEOs, day laborers, moms, politicians, reach and poor. It celebrates her significance and her worth in the eyes of the Divine. There are devotions and heart-felt prayers on each topic, clustered under Call, Struggles, Courage, Resistance and Persistence.
I picked up this volume several times over the last month, and each time there seemed to be a gentle word from the Spirit just for my situation. The compassion and wisdom in these pages were real, down-to-earth and honest. This was not a theological exercise. This is a book for tending your heart and relationship with the Almighty.
I believe there is a word for every woman, regardless of her situation. Words that will affirm, and bless. I am grateful that the editors brought these writers together — for our growth and for God’s kin-dom. They are pastors, chaplains, professors, elders, deacons and some still in-process. I recommend this book to you!
GIVEAWAY!!! If you would like a copy of this book – please make a comment below with your address and why you would like the book. (NOTE: I will not publish the comments! But if you want the book, you’ll need to give me your address!) I’ll have a drawing and some lucky woman (or man who wants to encourage a woman in his life) will win it.
We Pray With Her: Encouragement for All Women Who Lead. Edited by Emily Peck-McClain, Danyelle Trexler, Jen Tyler, J. Paige Boyer and Shannon Sullivan. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018. Paperback: 242 pages. ISBN-13: 9781501869709.
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.
REIGN OF CHRIST SUNDAY
November 25, 2018
A sermon for the people of God at
Bethesda United Church of Christ, Bethesda, MD
It’s good to be back here, and to give Pastor Dee a week off. I truly enjoy worshipping with you. You might not know that I’ve had opportunity to be in worship with Valerie before… but it’s been a while. And it’s lifted my heart. Thanks, Valerie, and choir for your gift of music to us this morning!
If you’ve read my bio, you know that I’m a Buckeye fan transplanted in Maryland. And I’m sorry-not-sorry about the last two wins… I believe there’s some people who are Terrapin fans and some folks from Ann Arbor in your congregation. It’s deep in my Buckeye DNA to go a little crazed when OSU football is on. My family will testify!
Every team, whether they win or lose has a leader. The trainers, players, fans and coaches all look to the head coach. They cast blame on the head coach when things go badly. They allow for occasional flub ups when things are iffy. They celebrate when things go well. Players who make the game look easy are often called “naturals”. But “naturals” actually give hours to conditioning, practice, study and then fine tuning their skills. There is a tremendous price to be a leader, or a “natural” at anything – and it is important for those of us who are in leadership, or who aspire to be the leader in a sport or a corporate office, make sure that we NOT sacrifice who we are and who God made us to be. The temptation to “win at all costs” is huge.
Like the song Natural1 from Imagine Dragons says,
That’s the price you pay
Leave behind your heartache, cast away
Just another product of today
Rather be the hunter than the prey
And you’re standing on the edge, face up ’cause you’re a Natural…
God asks men and women who are called to be leaders in the Kingdom of God to be above that. To be persons of integrity, not opportunists or power mongers.
So let’s take some time to consider what God asks of us as we participate in the work of the Spirit.
Our text this morning is on a week between the season of Pentecost and Advent. A time for us to take a breath, liturgically speaking, and begin to look ahead to the prophets and the Gospel stories proclaiming the birth of Christ and the return of Christ.
Israel’s King: David
Our text centers of these words of David, in his last days, speaking from his experience as king over Israel. While David was called “a man after God’s own heart” by the prophet Samuel, we know he was a flawed human being.
• David was attacked by his enemies yet believed in God’s deliverance
• He was driven by his desires yet acknowledged his sins of adultery, murder and enmity within his own house.
• He was humbled by his failures and accepting of God’s judgement
• Despite all this – David was still trusting in God at the end of his life – believing in the “everlasting covenant” – a prophetic arrow in the future of the coming Messiah
David the human being engaged in a practice many have participated in over the years: giving words of blessing and reflection. There is a sense of completion to his reign and his awareness that it all came from God.
There is no self-aggrandizement. There is no legacy-building. There is a profound prophetic word from God through God’s servant David to God’s nation. We know from our study of the text at other times that David’s to-do list was not completed. God did not allow David to be the one to build the Temple. Though his motives were pure, the prophet Nathan told him that God would not allow him to build the Temple. God’s plan was for Solomon, David’s son, to build the Temple.
Humanly speaking, it must have been difficult.
Imagine your “dream job”, your “capstone project” that you have worked your entire life to complete. And just as you begin those final plans, God makes it clear to you, saying, “no, this will be the task of that young intern you’ve been mentoring.” I call these moments “holy no’s.”
I’ve had “holy no’s” in my life. They were almost soul-crushing. I would cry and whine and beg God for a different answer. And if I did not believe in God’s goodness and love for me, they would have led me to despair. It’s only now — looking back on those “no’s” that I can say “thank you.” God’s goodness and kindness shines through.
David’s response is one of faith. He may have asked God “why?” but— then David responded in praise and worship. He spent the rest of his rule trying to listen and follow God. Time after time, David failed. Time after time, he was chastised and restored in grace and relationship. David was God’s leader for that time.
What is God’s Leader really like? From our text, we hear God’s leader described as one who “rules in the fear of God.”
God’s Leader: In the fear of God
3b One who rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God,
4 is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.
5a Is not my house like this with God?
For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
ordered in all things and secure. (2 Samuel 23, NRSV)
In these lines of poetry, this portrays a leader who is known to be like the God she or he serves: God the just, the strong, the beautiful, the provider, the protector, the unchanging. The words in verse 4 suggest that this is a restorative leader, a shepherd of the sheep who leads them in these luscious, green pastures.
This is a leader who promotes justice for the people. Egypt was well-known in the collective memories of the Jewish people. They remembered life under Pharaoh.
This reminds me that, like many groups within our society, there is a deep-seated memory of racism and violence, of prejudice and anti-semitism. There are classes of people who have experienced inexcusable discrimination. A leader who promotes justice needs a long-term memory of the ways that humanity has failed in exercising power in the past.
A leader who has a heart for God is someone who has deep reverence, worship, and obedience. Again, the memories of the Jewish people would recall stories of what would happen when they were following God’s leaders. In the book of Exodus, the people of God saw the provision of God in manna – but only when they took just enough. They remembered what happened to their enemies. They saw the power of obedience, and the swift and certain judgment of the defiant.
We who live in a democracy, not a monarchy, may enjoy the pomp and circumstance of royal weddings and processions. If we travel to London, we stand in line and wait to watch “the changing of the guard” at Buckinham Palace. But there’s something about authoritarian leaders that makes us squirm. It can take us out of our comfort zone.
• Because who “deserves” to lead?
• And if God’s leader is in place, what does God’s Kingdom really look like?
Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis of Luther Seminary in St. Paul writes about “The True Kingdom” on the Working Preacher blog:
The kingdoms of this world bank on sowing suspicion and authorizing autonomy. The kingdoms of this world depend on individualism and everyone for themselves alone. The kingdoms of this world insist that hierarchy will establish successful rule and that a ladder mentality, that keeps people in their proper places, is the mark of achieving and accomplishing leadership.
Not so with the Truth. For Jesus’ Kingdom chooses relationship. Jesus’ Kingdom chooses the perils and predicaments of flesh. Jesus’ Kingdom tells the truth about the Truth — that God so loved the world.
The truth is, we like clear and simple answers, really. We don’t like grey areas. We don’t like it when we think there’s a “fudge factor” that puts one person into a powerful position over another. This is especially true when we do not trust the person in leadership that has the power to pass judgment on us, to tell us when we are off track, not following Christ’s leadership. We don’t like having authority over us who is not trustworthy, who is dictatorial and uncaring.
Christ is not like an earthly ruler, of course. We know this. But in our humanness, we transfer our lack of trust and our skepticism. We forget that in the Reign of Christ, God’s Anointed will rule with justice and equity.
God’s Anointed: Christ Pantocrator
Who is God’s Anointed? In Eastern Orthodox and Catholic circles, one of the titles of Jesus is Christ Pantocrator. Two Greek words were put together to paint the word picture of the might, power and strength of Christ over all.
Pantocrator: pantos (“all”) + kratos (“might, strength, power”)
All-Powerful, Almighty, Ruler of All
To the Orthodox in particular, this image and expression of Christ is not unfamiliar. Iconography depicts Christ in this role of Ruler and Judge, of Christ’s humanity and deity. In the Orthodox icons, Christ is a large, centered, seated figure. The other persons or entities are smaller and limited to the corners of the art. Christ is pre-eminent. The face of Christ is the focal point.
Protestants morphed Christ Pantocrator into a more benevolent “Christ in Majesty” with a figure seated on some throne or dais, surrounded by depictions of the four Gospel writers, or saints and archangels. And as the centuries have wound along, the Church has strayed away from this idea of Christ the ruler, Christ the judge. We are more apt to speak of Christ as our Redeemer, or the Good Shepherd. And he is! I think if you look at the art in church windows in a modern building, you won’t find depictions of Christ as Ruler over all.
Art reflects the culture… what does that say to us? hmmm…
Every time the theme of “The Reign of Christ” is observed in our liturgical calendar, we are faced with a serious question:
Who is Christ to us?
Like the first century Christ followers who faced political pressure, we have to ask ourselves Who is my ruler? Is it Caesar? Is it money? Is it passion? Is it power? Or is it Christ?
The Church is not outside the petty infighting, corruption and scandals that we see in the political realm. The Church has people who want power, who abuse, who bully, and who lie. The Church has people who misuse funds. The Church has people who are racist, ableist, sexist homophobes.
We have to own where we, personally and corporately, fail God and each other. We have to own where we have been polite and silent instead of joining our voices in protest and anger with those who have been disenfranchised. We have to march, pray, speak out and act in ways that demonstrate we know we are part of the problem.
In a few weeks, we will sing carols about the Advent and Birth of the Christ Child. The second verse of Joy to the World by Isaac Watts speaks of this longing for change and for our part in bringing the world closer to the Kingdom of God in our midst:
Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns; let all their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy!
Where is the joy in a world of pollution and greed? It can be increasingly hard to see God at work. The clouds of darkness get in the way. I struggle. I question. I get mad (sometimes) that evil seems to be so strong and the Light of God is so weak.
Songwriter and cultural commentator Leonard Cohen said in his work, “Anthem”2 these words:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how I cope. I look for that crack where the light gets in. Maybe it’s engaging in a creative act that lifts my Spirit. Maybe it’s hearing beautiful music. Maybe it’s doing something for someone less fortunate. Maybe, just maybe, I need to, in the words of poet Wendell Berry, I need to “…lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.”
Can we be the Light that breaks through the world’s darkness?
Can we bear Christ’s Light in our actions and our words?
Can we be
…like the light of morning,
…like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.
Can we shine the Light of the Christ into our world?
Please pray with me:
O Christ, Ruler over all, omnipotent and powerful, and lover of our souls, shine through us. Turn our hearts towards the grander purposes of Christ, of the Kingdom of our Lord, who reigns now and forever.
1 © 2018 KIDinaKORNER/Interscope Records
2 “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen, © 1992, licensed by SME (on behalf of Columbia Records); UBEM, CMRRA, SOLAR Music Rights Management, Sony ATV Publishing, and 9 Music Rights Societies