Archive for April, 2018

You Come Back Now 4-29-2018

Sunday, April 29th, 2018

Sam is a great kid, but Sam is the only kid he knows that goes to church. But Mom insists.
Mom is a writer. In Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Mom explains why she wants her poor little Presbyterian church to be part of her son’s life:
“I want to give him what I found in the world, a path and a little light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want—which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy—are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith…They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle.”
“When I was at the end of my rope, the people of St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me to hold on. The church became my home. They let me in. They even said: You come back now.”
Sam was welcomed and prayed for at St. Andrew’s seven months before he was born. When I announced during worship that I was pregnant, people cheered. All these old people, raised in Bible-thumping homes in the Deep South, clapped. Even the women whose grown-up boys had been or were doing time in jails or prisons rejoiced for me…Women [who] live pretty close to the bone financially on small Social Security checks…routinely came up to me and stuffed bills in my pockets—tens and twenties…And then, almost immediately they set about providing for us. They bought clothes. They brought me casseroles to keep in the freezer. They brought me assurance that this baby was going to be part of the family.
“I was usually filled with a sense of something like shame, until I’d remember that wonderful line of Blake’s—that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love—and I would take a long breath and force these words out of my strangled throat: Thank you.”
Today’s Gospel calls us to realize the connections between Christ and us and between us and one another. On the night before he died (the setting of today’s Gospel) Jesus reminds his disciples of every time and place that, in his love, we are “grafted” to one another in ways we do not completely realize or understand. As branches of Christ the vine, we are part of something greater than ourselves, something which transforms and transcends the fragileness of our lives. May our families, communities and parishes become extended branches for all of us who struggle to realize our own harvests of joy and discovery, of grace and faithfulness.
I close – “When I was at the end of my rope, the people of St. Andrew/the people of Resurrection tied a knot in it for me and helped me to hold on. The church became my home. They let me in. They even said: You come back now.”

The Good Shepherd 4-22-2018

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

For most of us I think it is safe to say this image of the Shepherd is not something we see very much everyday. It was a very common scene in the early Church: – it is a common scene in the Middle East. People in the early Church could really understand what was involved in being a shepherd. It was very real and earthy to them. The Biblical figure of the Shepherd – has been romanticized a lot in paintings, pictures, Holy Cards, “rosy cheeked young men – among pure white fluffy sheep on beautiful green hillsides – very serene and peaceful.”

I did a little research into what Shepherds were like in the Time of Jesus. It was a very lonely, dirty, dangerous job – that could not be managed from a distance. Shepherds lived among the sheep in the filth and stench – the lives of the sheep were their primary concern. A sheep sometimes wandered far off from the others – when it got lost and could not find it’s way back, it would simply lie down where it was and refuse to budge – the shepherd would search out for the lost sheep – carefully pick it up and carry it home. There was a personal relationship between the Shepherd and each individual sheep. They were not just numbers.

I believe this image of the Shepherd points us to God. God is not squeamish; God will not run away when things get messy in our lives; – God’s hands are dirty (not lily white); God’s clothes are stained with waste, mud and blood – the waste, mud and blood of our roller coaster lives. This God gets in the middle of the mess with us.
Does the mess magically disappear? Not most of the time; but there is a sense we are not alone and that helps us get through it. A key question for us; Are we afraid to share our messes with God?

How does this shepherding image of God come alive? Become real to people – Today –
I believe most of the time thru people – we are called to be shepherds for each other. We are responsible to pick each other up when we are down.
“I thought just priests and ministers were shepherds – no we all are if we call ourselves Christian and mean it.”

“Don’t we need special skill and talents – training to do this? No! We need a caring heart, a little common sense and a few less excuses.

“What about when you don’t have the answers or solutions to people’s problems? You don’t know what to say or do. Just listen and just be there for them.

I close with a story I am sure we all have heard;
A man dreamed he died and went to heaven and there was met by Jesus. The man had lived a long Christian life, but it had not been without some time of great trial and tribulation as well as those times of joy and victory. As he met with Christ, the man was given a panoramic review of his life – all the highlights and low periods. In the review of his life one of the things that continued throughout were his footsteps along the sands of time.
The man noticed that at those times in his life when it had really been rough there was only one set of footprints – not two as in the good times. The man turned to the Lord and said, “Lord, I don’t understand. You promised to be with me always. But when I look back now, I see that in those really rough times there was only one set of footprints. Lord, why did you leave me then?”

The Lord looked at him, smiled and said, ‘Leave you? I didn’t leave you at all. Dear friend, if you look at the one set of footprints carefully, you’ll notice they are a little deeper than the others. Those were the time I was carrying you.”

The Teens Who Knew Where To Stand 4-15-2018

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

In a local church community, some of the teens complained that the only time it seemed that they were needed or noticed was when there was cleanup after social events. Their wise youth ministry coordinator challenged them to come up with a solution. Their solution changed their community.
For five weeks in a row, at the same time and same door, the same pair of teens would gather at the three entrances of the church. As some of the “regulars” and others would arrive, the teens would extend their hands with a smile and announce, “Welcome to our church”. After dismissal, the faithful would leave by the same route, being greeted again by the same teens, who thanked them for their attendance.
By the third week, smiles appeared on the faces of the adults and families who were greeted by these teens with their familiar chant. This continued for two more weeks, with pats on the back, more smiles, and much feedback to the pastor.
The sixth week, the teens did not show up at their assigned spots. They were still at church, but in the pews with their own families. What do you think the question was in the pews that morning? Where are those teens?
Parishioners soon found out as they walked to their cars in the parking lot after Mass. They discovered printed invitations on their car windshields that simply read, “Did you miss us? Come to the hall?” Curious now, many parishioners went back into the building, where they passed between two rows of teens giving them a standing ovation.
That church community hasn’t been the same since. Many creative ministries are happening there now, all kick-started by the teens who knew where to stand.