Those Who Can’t Do… Preach

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It’s a funny thing we do, worship. It’s silly really. For an hour (or so) a week we go into a room full of stained glass and a giant cross and stand and sit and stand and sit in uncomfortable rows known as “pews”. Which I still to this day think sounds like a dirty word…

On the last day of UNCO15 East I was sitting in the back of the room behind a computer watching a room full of worship leaders worship collaboratively. I have always said that UNCO is some of my favorite worship I have ever experienced, but each time that has happened, I have been helping to lead the worship.

I was still “participating”, running the powerpoint, but I was reminded how strange and uncomfortable to sit through worship. I am always amazed when parishioners ask me “I don’t know how you do it up there”. The truth is, I don’t know how you do it. How do I stop from feeling uncomfortable? I “do” things. Worship especially. It’s uncomfortable, its vulnerable, it scary.

A friend who is a pastor said to me the other day that he had no interest in teaching people how to worship, if you’re in church you should already know. “I have no idea how to worship,” I retorted, “that’s why I lead it.”

I speak truth here. I often begin “prayers of the people” in worship with “Jesus taught us not only to pray for ourselves, but to pray for others.” I don’t know how to pray for myself, that’s why I pray for others.

There’s really not much more to it than that. I’m a pastor who doesn’t know how to worship or pray, that’s why I do it.

Because worship and prayer are hard. The faith thing? Those who can’t believe, pastor.

It’s too personal for me, this thing that is God, worship, faith. I have to “do something” to keep myself from becoming too open, too vulnerable, too moved. Too anything is bad. or is it?

I know a man who lived a tragic life, it was a heartbreaking story. A few of us knew it. He struggled. He was a single man in his 40’s that worshiped and found community in the church, we were his family. But still, in the midst of worship he sat by himself while everyone else sat with their families.

On Christmas Eve during Silent Night he would sob openly and loudly.

You can imagine the comments. This is everyone’s “favorite moment of the year”. This is “the most meaningful moment in all of worship” (pastor eye roll).

Sometimes he would sob alone, another year someone would wrap their arms around him, some of the people in the room “tolerated” it, others cried too, because his sorrow brought out their own. Others looked with empathy, but went about singing merrily.

Worship is uncomfortable, but it is so because (if we’re doing it right) you have permission to be exactly where you are in life at the moment you are experiencing it, to have permission to feel all the feels and think all the thinks. And you’re doing it in front of other people, in a stained glass room full of people.

If I don’t occupy myself in preaching, praying and logistics of worship, I would sob and weep openly.

Every pastor I know who has left church for one reason or another struggles with “attending” worship. Most parishioners I know couldn’t imagine “leading” on a weekly basis.

I need worship. My soul needs to worship. I need to sit and stand and sing and laugh when I say things like “Our scripture lesson this morning comes from the Gospel according to Mike.”

I need to celebrate wins with a community, I need to mourn my grief in public. I need to gather for an hour every week and pray for you, preach the Word of the Lord, administer the sacraments, and ask forgiveness on behalf of the world which is in so much pain.

Worship is terribly hard, if you’re doing it right. I’m not sure I am. And those who can’t do… preach.

Lord I want to be a Christian

There is a famous prayer (paraphrasing here) from St. Augustine saying “Lord, make me a Christian, but not yet…”

Apparently Augustine had a lover and a kid with her. He wanted to be a Christian and a priest, but he would have to give up his mistress and his child. So he went to a garden and prayed. “I want to be a Christ, but not yet.”

These next three days I will journey through the stories of Jesus’ last supper, the prayer in the garden, the excruciating trial and crucifixion. And eventually, death not having the last word.

I cannot pick a favorite story of the bible, or a favorite scripture, or even a favorite book. I can tell you why I would choose Mark or John’s feeding of the 5000 story over Matthew or Luke. Why the prayer of the shema is so important to me. Why the Old Testament stories add such a complexity to my understanding of family and human life.

I can also tell you I am a Christian today because of the prayer Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I am the daughter of a catholic and a mainline protestant [and the step-child of two southern baptists(ish)]. Although church was on and off, my family is Christian, I was raised with church on Christmas and Easter and some times in-between. I was also raised with the concept that these were the things we did before the family gathered for the holiday meal.

Despite being “raised” Christian, there is no question when I “became” Christian. I know when I accepted that God was working in my life, I can look up the dates I was baptized and joined the church, I can tell you the story of my first communion and I can also tell you the moment I became a Christian.

An aside: saying “the moment I became a Christian” is really creepy to me. Having been raised for a time in the southern Baptist tradition I have to say this is a little too close to “when were you saved” but there really was a definitive moment I decided to be Christian.

Life wasn’t good and I struggled. I received my call to seminary when I was 18, but life happened, or continued to happen I should say. I ran from God for 2 years after this call. I know, not that long, but I ran hard, my life crumbled. I moved to Memphis running away from my hometown, I moved to Louisville, running away from Memphis.

I ran from Christianity most of all, not from God, but from religion. I could not give up on God… ever. But I wasn’t so sure about Jesus and the church.

My junior year of college I transitioned from a Music Education degree to a BA of Arts in music with a religious study minor. I studied world religions and I loved it. I was not “seeking” for a specific religion but wanted to learn and study all the different ways people knew and experienced God.

To fulfill the requirements for the degree I had to take a course in Christianity, admittedly I was not as happy about this. Yet, Introduction to New Testament I went… The class was taught by an ordained southern Baptist and was full of bible-thumping born-again engineers fulfilling their humanities requirement. I hated every moment of it.

Except, I had to read the New Testament. And I got to the moment of the Garden of Gethsemane (I like Matthew’s version the best). And I was transformed.

I read this prayer, and I had prayed this prayer:

“Now that’s a guy I can follow.” I even said out loud in my apartment. This guy gets it. This God gets it. I can follow him. I can teach his teachings, I can pray to a God who gets it. This Jesus gets me, he understand what it is to live this life. That life is hard and complicated, that there are impossible choices to make.

“Please don’t make me do this” Jesus prays. “I beg you.”

Yet at the end of the day, I believe in the gracious mercy of God and I am at God’s will to be used in the way God would have me be used – for love and compassion even if that means pain and heartache at times.

This is why Augustine left his mistress and child. This why I not only went to seminary but why I am in church on Sunday morning. Even more than that – it is why I don’t actually care if anyone shows up for service tonight, or tomorrow, or on Sunday. Their loss if they don’t.

Because I am a Christian who believes that God knows me through and through, because God – present on earth, fully human, in the form of Jesus – was alone in a sea of followers who worshiped him. Abandoned, he begged and pleaded, for life to be different – for this life he was living to be different. He begged to not have to make an impossible choice. He begged that someone else would take the burden away – make the decision for him. But God doesn’t work that way…

And Jesus knew it. And so do I.

God doesn’t stop the human feelings of burden, of wishing it wasn’t so. I know what I must do, ultimately what I will do, but until then, I beg you, don’t make me do this.

So I will be in worship tonight, I will serve communion, and I will read Matthew’s version of the garden of Gethsemane. I think it would be great if you were there.

Will you stay awake and pray with me a while?

Christ-Gethsemane

 

2014 Lenten Installation

I walked into a meeting last fall and we discussed our Lenten theme “Dynamics of Faith” loosely based on the Paul Tillich book of the same title.  There sermons are here. But what sort of symbol could we use for faith? Last year our theme was atonement and the sanctuary was filled with crosses.  Then we realized that the stained glass windows in the sanctuary, especially the front ones, displayed symbols of faith:

photoThen, somewhere in throwing out ideas we were talking about the outline of the series. What Faith Is, What Faith is Not, Faith and Doubt, Faith in Action, and Faith in Community.

Then came the conversation about stumbling blocks, or barriers, or boxes…

We left it at that.  Something with boxes…

Rob Kelly, the amazingly talented Director of Contemporary Music and Creative Arts that I work with found this as an inspiration. The idea went from there.  I got a package that was the exact size, math was done (badly mind you) and 350 boxes were ordered, painted for dimension, and installed over the last 6 weeks. Here are the results:

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Today as we prepare for the final Sunday before Easter we have blocked out the symbols, we have darkened the curtains, we have turned inward during this season. The walls are closing in, and the tomb is closing, on Easter morning the curtain will be torn and dazzling white will spread throughout the sanctuary.  Until then, we wait.

 

 

Answered Prayers

You’ve seen them- the commercials, the YouTube videos, Facebook posts- of the soldiers surprising their families, finally home after deployment. I admit, I can’t watch them. I cry uncontrollably.  I have to change the channel, leave the room, plug my ears. It’s too much.

I’ve thought long and hard about why this is, I’m not sure there is an answer or if there is there are those much more scientific than I to tell you, but here’s what I do know.

About a year ago we laid on hands and commissioned Captain Troy Modisette of the Army for deployment.  We also commissioned and laid on hands of his family- Debbie, Adam (now 17) and Alyssia (12). The Modisettes have been part of our church for a long time, are very active and beloved. Thankfully Troy was being deployed to a fairly peaceful post in Kuwait, but that did not make it any easier on him or his family. Anyone who has experienced or walked a family through deployment knows, there are hardly words to express the sadness and feelings of loss from everyday life.

I admit I did not know Troy well before his deployment, I had met him several times and he worked with our children and youth to send packages to soldiers at Christmas. I admit, though, we did have a special bond, one confirmed when he gave me one of his Beef Enchilada MREs (his favorite). Debbie and I, have become very close. I am thankful, although I could have done a lot more, that she took me seriously when I told her I was there for her and her children. I thought and prayed for all of them everyday of this last year.

We knew Troy’s deployment was ending soon, we knew that it could be anytime, but no later than March. Just knowing that made things a little (stress: a little) easier emotionally on his family, after Christmas we all began to witness the fog begin to clear, a little.  Thankfully Troy arrived home on Saturday. He surprised Adam at a tennis match and Alyssia at a restaurant. The stories, photos, and yes, video is beautiful. I cried, they capture feelings of pure joy and relief.

But the surprises weren’t over yet.

I was looking for Debbie in her Sunday School class last Sunday morning because I had a question to ask her. It was a holiday weekend and she wasn’t there, no biggie I guess (what, people take a day off… what?). Second service started and we were in the middle of announcements when the large doors of the church opened.

I saw Adam and Debbie and Alyssia. Then I saw a man in fatigues. I was shocked to say the least. The congregation’s eyes were forward so I managed to get out, “welcome home soldier!” I will never forget the look on Adam’s face as he knew he had “gotten me”. As they made their way forward (they always sit up front!) I tried to move on but couldn’t. I left the lectern, ran down the aisle and hugged them. The congregation clapped and cheered, I cried. (and am crying now just thinking about it).

As I reflect on the beauty of the moment I wonder if that family knows what they were saying to me and more importantly the church community when they included us in the surprise of welcoming Troy home. Some people don’t always understand why a church community is important, but Sunday morning the Modisettes witnessed that the love of God and the prayers of the community make us family. A family of God.

We care for one another, we love each other, and we hold each other dearly through pain, sorrow, and pure- overwhelming- ecstatic joy. Troy left his family in the care of our community and we answered the call- for him, his troop, and his family. For a year we have prayed for this family to be reunited. Any and all problems will not disappear or melt away, there is still a journey ahead and I will continue to hold them in prayer. But for now, I give great thanks and praise for answered prayers.

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The Definition of Insanity

I have heard it boasted many a time that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.  Actually this is not true. According to Merriam-Webster the definition of insanity is as follows:

in·san·i·ty noun \in-ˈsa-nə-tē\

: severe mental illness : the condition of being insane

: something that is very foolish or unreasonable

But it is not true for other reasons too.  Every night I read with my 6 year old and every night she gets better, every night I expect a different result, and slowly, over time, I get one. But that’s not what got me pondering…

For the last 5 months I have been attending Bikram Yoga Baltimore regularly.  It started off with a groupon. I spent $40 for 20 classes. The walk-in price is $20 a class so I figured if I hated it, or flaked out (as I have been known to do with workout classes) it wasn’t such a big loss. But if I liked it, it was a hell of a deal.

So I went, then I went again, by the third time I was hooked.  I LOVED it. I was so hooked I used up almost all my groupon classes (you have four months to use them) and bought 50 more classes (which I have a year to use) at $10 a class.

I go about twice a week to Bikram Yoga, the room is heated to 105-115 degrees and is a series of 26 of the same postures in the same order. “And you like that?!?” People ask. Yes, I LOVE it. “Are you insane?” yes, I think I am. “But’s it’s so hot and sweaty doesn’t it smell?” Yes, it’s hot, yes, I sweat more than I ever have in my life, yes occasionally the room smells. But you also don’t care!

Today as I am feeling the blood rush back into my body after a compression pose I notice the woman next to me, it is her first class, and she is struggling. I thought back to my first class. This woman and I could have been sisters, similar coloring, same size, same hair. I leaned forward and grabbed the sides of my feet, this is insane, I thought, look how far I can bend, stretch, move, amazing.

Twice a week for five months I have done the same thing over and over again expecting different results, and I’m getting them. I feel strong and powerful, I hold my body higher and straighter, and am happier for it.

What have I to learn from this when it comes to ritual? We say that doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result is insane, but each time I worship, come to the Lord’s Table, say the Lord’s Prayer, or sit in silence with the intention of hearing God, am I not changed?

Maybe it’s insane to the world, but maybe a little insanity is what we all really need… See you next week. Same place, same time.

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Child of Blessing, Child of Promise

Last week was unco West, which meets at San Francisco Theological Seminary. Just like all other uncos (which is short for unconference) it was amazing, and I met people I wondered how I ever lived without and spent some time with the people that feed my soul.  At the end of the last worship we decided to give each other a blessing, with water. We remembered our baptism, washed away our shame, and blessed each other with abundance and permission. As a worship leader the bowl was started near me and I was privileged to be one of the last to be anointed.

So it’s my turn to go forward and I have been holding a 2 year old little girl. We do this at unco, rely on the community for everything, including entertaining each other’s children. It is church and community in the truest form. She and I have been playing for a while now and her mom is in front of us.  Kath turns around and anoints her daughter, a beautiful moment for everyone, but then this precious girl dips her fingers into the water and touches my forehead.

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I have baptized many children- all special, all sacred moments, all a privilege, but never have I received an blessing from a child. Not this way.

I have experienced the grace of both of my children, I have been anointed with bath water, spit-up and snot. I know that this little girl was simply mimicking what her mother did, but she did it. She touched my forehead with her tiny fingers and wiped that cold tap water on my head. She blessed me.

I have a lot to atone for in my life, enough shame to last 10 lifetimes- but in that moment- there was purity of joy, there was innocents in my arms and on my head. God came in that moment in the hands of a child and pushed me out of myself. Love is like that. That sweet girl through her fingers blessed me with innocence and grace.

May she (and I) grow to be a strong woman of faith and wisdom. In the name of all that is good and holy. Amen.

To Perfect or Not to Perfect

There are people around me who encounter me in certain situations that call me a perfectionist.  I am not, and I will not claim the title. I am not a “type A” personality or a “control freak”. I am particular and I like things to be right if at all possible.

There are few things I agree with that I was taught in the Southern Baptist Church, but I do agree with this- I am not perfect. I understand the limitations of situations, of being human, and I have many weaknesses- like not asking for help. But something about control became magnified and caused an epiphany for me when I was trying to get pregnant with my first child. There are things I have control over, and things I very much do not.

SerenityWhat happened in the heightened situation of hormones was that I made a decision to control the things I could and let the things I cannot control go.  This is not unlike the serenity prayer prayed in AA, NA, OA, etc. every hour of every day.

But… I do take the courage part very seriously.  I feel that we focus a lot on granting the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, but we forget the courage to change the things we can.  This is hard, harder sometimes than letting go of control is taking it.

On the mornings that I walk my daughter to school I am consistently impressed by the teacher that is in charge of the cross walk. She taps on windows of parents that parked in the wrong place, politely but with authority asks for parents to use the cross walk as a good example for the children.

As I walked away the other day I wondered if the school specifically picked teachers with personalities that were naturally confronting. But you don’t have to be, you do however need to have a confidence and courage that you are in the right and (in her case) protecting the safety of all those involved, especially the children.

I do not have a naturally confronting nature, confrontation is something I worked very, very hard to be comfortable with- it comes with the “everybody-needs-to-like-me syndrome”.  Now I push when need be and pull back when I can.  Sometimes it is only in retrospect when I understand the difference (the wisdom to know…).

I do, however, as my best friend Melissa says- “Want things the way that I want them.” If you know me, you will see the difference between “type A perfectionism” and wanting things done well.  I am able to let things go that cannot be controlled and I could care less if there is a typo in the bulletin, but when it comes to relaying information, we should tell the truth, especially when we have access to it.

There are so many things that are a “matter of opinion” but there are some that are not. I believed this is why I loved music as much as I did, there are controlled rules- a quarter note = 1 beat,  crescendo, decrescendo, ritardando- these were all directions, but there was also room for interpretation.

The composer told me what note to play or sing and I played or sang that note, and I got louder and softer/faster and slower as the music told me to. That was the control the composer had over the music, but the interpretation was up to the player or singer or conductor. A composer dead 300 years has no say in the interpretation.

Serenity and courage, not perfection.

May we all today dare to have the courage to stand up for what is right, and to let go of the need to control the uncontrollable.

Can I get a Witness?

This sermon was preached on July 28, 2013 at Ashland Presbyterian Church, Hunt Valley, Maryland. I admit, I get lost when I write a sermon in narrative form (I usually preach from an outline). Actually that’s not true, I write a narrative or an outline and then I ignore them completely. So I tried to record it but somehow didn’t get it… So I’m posting the narrative because it was an important sermon in the life of our church and community, an opportunity to BE the Body of Christ in the world.

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Daniel 6:1-28

We don’t know much about the book of Daniel in all honesty.

We lift up Daniel and the Lion’s Den as something we teach our children, mainly. The bad King through Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Daniel prayed, and God saved Daniel.

Sound about right? Okay then, thank you…

Now, if we’re really good, we might know a little more about Daniel, that three chapters ago he and three friends refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar and were sentenced to deal by fiery furnace.

Daniel, got a stay of execution, but his friends- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not so lucky.

They were thrown into the furnace but were not consumed and as the king watched he saw 4 figures and the God of Israel is credited at saving them.

Daniel is found in our Bible in the section of the Old Testament called prophetic literature, but the style of the book of Daniel is actually what’s called “apocalyptic”. Think the book of revelation.

The stories take place during the Babylonian Captivity, although now scholars agree it was actually written in the 2nd century BCE (200 years before Christ).

And if you’re REALLY you might have remembering hearing chapter 7 with the vision of the great beasts, which comes up in lectionary every 3 years but no one ever reads it because it’s weird.

So let’s talk a little about what’s going on, the Book of Daniel is split into two parts, the first (ch. 1-6) is a narrative, story of Daniel, his friends, and relationships with the Kings.

The second (chapter 7-12) are a series of 4 visions Daniel has about Babylonian captivity.

The story begins with a brief reference to king Nebuchadnezzar robbing the Jerusalem temple and carrying its treasures back to Babylon.

It goes on to describe how some young members of the Judean nobility, including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, are inducted into the king’s service.

The book teaches the Jews in captivity of a foreign king, that it is possible to remain faithful to the God of Israel all the while serving an earthly king that is not sympathetic to your faith.

Which brings us to the story of the Lion’s Den.

Daniel has climbed the ranks in the Babylonian Empire; in fact he is now the third most powerful person in government position. He and the king have a good relationship, Daniel has proven himself not just politically to the king but also personally.

This cannot be said for the rest of the royalty of the Babylonians.

The other princes and persons in power to not look favorably on Daniel’s success, him being a foreigner and all.

So they scheme together and make a plan to get the king to declare a month of celebration and prayer to him, the king.

Now in polytheistic cultures, royalty and kings were considered god-like, so as the people prayed to multiple gods, this month of prayer devoted to the king would make it illegal to pray to any other God.

Including the God of Israel.

Daniel is aware of the decree, and was probably there when the king signed it into law. He is not ignorant, he knows exactly what this means.

Yet, Daniel does what a faithful follower does. He goes home, opens his window that faces toward Jerusalem and prays.

What’s interesting to me about this is that Daniel doesn’t go ingot the streets and protest, knowing for sure he would probably be killed. Daniel, as far as we know, doesn’t try to stop the law. He simply follows in his routine, following God’s will.

A trap has been set of course and those that wanted Daniel caught now have their proof. They run and tell the king that someone has broken his law and they should be punished.

“Absolutely, says the king, throw them in the lion’s den”

“Great, they say, because it’s Daniel”

This week we had a profound experience in the life of the church. For the last 6 months we have been praying for Rob, his recovery, and what might happen in court regarding his future and jail time.

Finally on Tuesday we would have our answer (and in case you are wondering, yes, I do have Rob’s permission to talk about this, although he asked permission not to be present).

Several of us (about 20) gathered at the District Court House in Towson to show our support and to show a judge that Rob had a strong community. What happened was amazing.

The king was ready to throw whoever had broken the law into jail, or honestly a fate worse than jail, the lion’s Den, certain death, and a slow and painful one at that. Until he found out it was Daniel.

The text tells us that the king spent the rest of the day trying to get Daniel acquitted because they were friends, he was a good man. The king didn’t want to hurt someone as good and faithful as Daniel.

Knowing Daniel, his story, seeing his humanity made all the difference to the king.

As we filed into the courtroom on Tuesday the judge was in recess. It was a small room and we filled the seats. I was standing off to the side with the Rob’s lawyer. And I started to pray.

I prayed that the judge’s heart would be softened. I prayed for love to surround Rob. I prayed for the spirit to move in this place.

When the judge entered everyone came forward and where I was standing I realized that the judge could not look at Rob without looking at me.

Now, those of you who were there were there were commenting because not only was Rob in a tie (Katie walked right by him) but I was in my collar! Which of course never happens.

I was very aware of my feelings at the moment and the prayers continued. The judge felt cold, harsh, as if decision had already been made. Or maybe that’s what I was simply anticipating.

The king was unsuccessful in trying to get a stay of execution for Daniel and the time came for him to enter the Lion’s Den. The king’s only words were “May the king you so faithfully serve deliver you!”

This was indeed the king’s prayer.

Daniel was thrown into a cage with a starved lion and left for dead.

The next morning the king reappears and tentatively called out for Daniel. And he answers. The text tells us the Lord had sent angels causing the lion’s mouth to close so he would be unharmed.

Something amazing happened on Tuesday in that courtroom. The proceedings lasted about a half hour, and it was a pray without ceasing moment. The judge was moved by the presence of community, we humanized Rob for the judge.

As the proceedings went on not only did the mood in the room lighten, but we could feel the spirit moving, grace and mercy were abundant.

There is no doubt that the judge was impressed and moved by the community and our being there made all the difference. The judge decided no jail time was necessary.

In the end when Rob thanked the judge he said, “thank your pastor, and these people.”

Now there is no doubt in our part in all this, but saying ‘we’ saved Rob is like thanking the lion for Daniel’s life. No, it was the will and the call of God that we responded to.

We responded in love, love which scripture tells us, all love- is from God.

All that was needed was a chance to witness to that love.

Daniel did it through prayer, discernment, and life. The king does it through advocacy, and even when he couldn’t change the other’s minds, he believes and is respectful of Daniel’s God. Even to the point of undoing an unjust law.

Through the Spirit, King Darius decrees:

“For he is the living God

and he endures forever;

his kingdom will not be destroyed,

his dominion will never end.

27 He rescues and he saves;

he performs signs and wonders

in the heavens and on the earth.

He has rescued Daniel

from the power of the lions.”

God is moving in this place, in the lives of others, and we pray to follow that spirit wherever she may go. We responded this week by witnessing the love of God in a courtroom, and it was a beautiful and profound experience for us all.

So how will we continue this week?

God delivers us from a fate worse than death, God delivers us from the mouth of the lion, and the cages- real or imaginary- this world puts us in. We cannot save each other, only God can do that.

We can stand up and be the love of Christ in the world for each other, we can witness to the world that God is love, that every one of us has a story, that God created us unique and we deserve the respect to have our stories heard.

So, where and to whom is God calling us next? It is not us who brings salvation, but the one, true and living God. And for that, we are truly thankful. Yet how and for whom will God call us to witness to next?

For Daniel it was to a king, for us it was to a judge, where else might the spirit lead? Friends, the possibilities are endless.

May it be so for you and for me… And all God’s people said, Amen.

Ezekiel 37 Prayer Stations

Another Blog Post by our Guest Blogger Ashland’s Summer Intern Katie Jasa!

Prayer Station #1: Breath Prayer

Location: Classroom

ImageA breath prayer is a type of prayer that allows us to connect with God no matter where we are or what we’re doing. In a breath prayer, we pray to the rhythm of our own breathing, which we intentionally slow down. The breath prayer can be a prayer in itself, or it can lead into further prayer. By practicing breath prayers regularly, you allow a “spirit break” that becomes as natural as breathing.

Here’s how you do it: Close your eyes. Breathe in slowly; then breathe out slowly. Repeat this several times. Say the first line of the breath prayer (while breathing in). For example: Lord. Then, breathe out slowly, give the second line of the breath prayer, have mercy. Repeat the prayer several times (it could be a four or five or several minutes worth, allowing other thoughts to disappear and concentrating on your breathing, essentially, you are not “saying” the word but “breathing” it) and then allow time for silence.  Close this time of breath prayer with a simple prayer maybe “thank you Jesus for your love, Amen.” You may use one of the following breath prayers or create one of your own using a line of music, a poem, another Bible verse, and so on.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

Be still, and know God.

Create in me, a clean heart.

This is the day, the Lord has made.

Fear not, I am with thee.

Peace, be still.

God, is here.

 (Shannon wrote up the instructions for this station, and transformed one of our preschool classrooms into a quiet meditation space. There were beanbag and rocking chairs, as well as soft music playing. We put burlap over the preschool toys and added posters to the walls as well)

 

Prayer Station #2: Journaling

Location: Sanctuary

ImageThink about the times of drought in your faith.

·       When has your faith felt dry, or dead? When have you hoped for more? What dried you out? Write about these times.

Think about the times you longed for help from God.

·       What did you thirst for? How did you ask for new life? Write about those hopes.

Think about how you transitioned out of that dry valley, if you have already done so.

·       Was it a sudden change, or gradual? Was your faith renewed or enriched in some way? Write about these moments of change.

 For this station we put pictures of desserts around the sanctuary with the questions, so that people could sit in their pews and write.  This station worked well for people who were less mobile.


Prayer Station #3: Bare Bones

Location:  Back of Sanctuary

“As I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling,

and the bones came together, bone to its bone.” – Ezekiel 37:7

ImageThink about the things that have made you who you are. Who are the important people in your life? What places matter the most to you? Which events changed you? Consider the good and the bad things in your past. As you think about what defines you, trace the bones of your hand with paint. Look at the shape, and reflect on who you are in the present.

 Press your hand on a piece of paper, and see how your hand hides the marks of your bones. Remember that God sees every part of you, down to your bones, even the parts of you that nobody else can see. God loves you for exactly who you are, both inside and out. Reflect on God’s love for your entire self.

 We couldn’t really do prayer stations based on Ezekiel without doing something about bones. I got the idea for this station from http://almostunschoolers.blogspot.com/2010/10/ezekiel-and-dry-bones-x-ray-craft.html, and then wrote questions to turn the craft into a prayer.

 

Prayer Station #4: Community Blanket

Location: Communion Table

“Thus says the Lord God to these bones:

I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you,

and cover you with skin,

and put breath in you, and you shall live;

and you shall know that I am the LORD.’” – Ezekiel 37:5-6

God’s love has covered us with many blessings, and each one makes up part of who we are as a church. How does God build you up? What gives your life and hope? Draw or write something that you are thankful for on the fabric, making a blanket that reflects our community.

 For this prayer station we wanted to focus on how God covers each one of us. I’ll finish sewing the felt squares together soon so that we can use the blanket as a covering on the communion table in the upcoming weeks.


Prayer Station #5: Seeds of New Life

Location: Courtyard (out door of Sanctuary)

“We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”

– 2 Corinthians 4:7

ImageThink about things in your life that you want to hide, or things that have marked you. Take a pot and write these things on the inside as a confession.

 Pour water into your pot, blurring your words and drenching the vessel. As the clay fills up with water, picture yourself being filled with the Holy Spirit. Just as these words are washed by the water, your sins have been washed away in the waters of baptism. Remember your own baptism, and know that you have been forever changed and claimed as one of God’s beloved children.

 Once the water has drained from your pot, fill it with soil. Think about the ways that you are ready for God’s call to flourish in your life. Open yourself to new life, and plant a seed into your pot. As the seedling grows in the next few days, remember that faith can transform our lives.

 

This was a much longer prayer station than the others, and unfortunately was also outside in the hot sun. We had been thinking about doing a confessional station as well as one that reminded people of their baptisms, and somehow ended up combining these ideas into a multi-part station.

The idea for the confessional writing and washing came from a prayer station at UNCO, which used stones and a bowl of water. I also incorporated some of the overflowing Spirit language from http://www.creativeprayer.com/water-and-spirit/.  I got the idea for the seed from http://www.creativeprayer.com/planting-hope/, although our version was a bit simpler. I liked the symbolism that the vessel which was first marked with sins was eventually filled with the potential for new growth, and it was nice for the congregants to take away something tangible.

 

Getting ‘Right with God’

right-withSo I’ve been thinking about this concept about getting yourself on a “right relationship” with God.  What does that mean?  I hate to say it, but the definition is kind of the same as it is for porn, no one knows, but we all know it when we see it.  (BTW- I have never understood not being able to define pornography, it seems pretty obvious, but back to God.)

When I meet someone who is wholeheartedly in tune with who they are, who God is in their lives, and knows the struggles, ebbs and flows of spiritual lives I can see it a mile away.  Actually, I can feel it a mile away.  I am going to be so bold as to say I am one of these people, some or dare I say, most? of the time.  That is not a statement of ego, but an understanding of exploration in my life.

I ache to pray each day and I cannot stand it when “life gets in the way” or I am going through a time where I have convinced myself that my prayer life is not “important right now”.  There is a physical need, a hunger, a longing to worship my God and creator, to pay homage to her with my life, to understand him more fully, and to never, ever feel without their presence.

But I do have issues.  You remember the woman that Ellen DeGenerous called who “loved Jesus, but drank a little” (if you haven’t seen it, prepare yourself for the greatest thing ever… watch it here- starts around minute 2).  Anyway, I am confident in my spirituality, I don’t have it figured out but I love Jesus, I love who God created me to be, and I try as best as my broken self can to follow the call and will of God.

All that being said, perfection is far from my description.  I have broken relationships with people, there are things that I get on myself about, a “shame tape” that plays in my head.  I struggle with my weight, with being vulnerable, with anxiety, that people won’t like me.  All the normal things.

When I was in high school I was told that if I were right with God all these other things would fall into place.  A friend worked through her issues with her mom and dropped her weight, others got over their “disorders” when they had a profound experience of God in their lives.  But as I was thinking about this the other day I realized how unhealthy this style of thinking was.  It seemed to be just another thread of Prosperity Theology.

You know prosperity theology, prosperity preaching.  If you give money to the church God will bless you with a fancy car, a nice house, a perfect family.  Think Tammy Fay Baker. Anyway, I know plenty of people addicted to exercise and health food that aren’t anywhere close to understanding who they are and who God is in their lives, who loathe themselves, who struggle everyday to feel loved.

One does not automatically follow the other.

Should we take care of our bodies, our eating, anxiety, or narcissism, and seek help for these issues- absolutely.  But that does not get you right with God.  Neither does getting on a path to spiritual awareness turn you into a swimsuit model.

God, show me what is real, teach me your paths and your ways of peace in my heart, peace in my relationships, peace in the world.  I love you (and I drink a little). Amen.