Resurrection People

The week ahead of us is a bit of a roller coaster ride. We begin with Palm Sunday and the throngs of people cheering in the streets for this King Jesus. We will sing “Hosanna!” and wave our palms with shared excitement.

We follow the story through our daily Scripture readings and watch as many of those enthusiasts turn their backs on Christ. Now the streets are lined with crowds screaming chastisement and “crucify him!” as Christ carries the cross to Golgotha. On Good Friday we examine our own sinfulness and look into the eyes of our crucified savior who lovingly bore our sins. The plan of God to invite us back into the perfect fellowship of the Trinity was taking shape.

And then…oh my heart rate is quickening just thinking of the tremendous feat of Easter Sunday! Our God raises Jesus Christ from the dead, forever conquering the power of sin and the grave, and inviting us to partner with him in bringing his healing will to earth now as it is already in heaven. Our salvation begins now and our wholeness will last for eternity.

N.T. Wright puts it this way in his book Surprised by Hope:

“The prayer ‘Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven’ is powerfully answered at the first Easter and will finally be answered fully when heaven and earth are joined in the new Jerusalem. Easter was a when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present.”

(Images used with permission from www.sacredordinarydays.com)

The Scent of Grandma’s House

Dear Gramma Mary,

I will always remember that patch of irises or “root beer flowers” you had in the back corner of the house. Any time I see these beautiful purple blooms I think of you and the many memories we made in that big back yard –

clean linens flapping on the line,

birds chirping near the feeder,

tire swing swaying from the montrous oak,

and the long wait for the charcoal grill to heat and cook our hamburgers.


I remember sitting in your Florida room watching Lawrence Welk as the summer breeze blew through the screened windows.

I remember you tossing us a whiffle ball and the time I hit a “home run” by breaking one of those glass panes. I learned about restitution.

I remember playing “fox and hound” in a foot of freshly fallen snow when I’d spend a snow day at your house.

I remember your clip-on earrings and your red carpet room and your pretty head scarves that you wore when it was windy.

So many things make me think of you – old fashioned pencil sharpeners, Archway windmill cookies, cabbage rolls, jade jewelry, aspen trees, rummy, gumdrops, and anything PBS.


Thanks for having Ash and I over every Friday night to eat McDonald’s and watch Jeopardy and TGIF (ok, that was mostly us, but I can’t forget that ancient 13 inch tv in your bedroom.) Thanks for letting us spend the night and snuggle with you in the double bed and telling us stories before we fell asleep. Thanks for teaching me how to do plastic canvas and letting me pretend to use your acrylic paints like Bob Ross. I’ll forgive you for snoring if you forgive me for getting water all over the place whenever I “helped” wash dishes. I always smile when I think of how you called Kevin your boyfriend and how proud you were when he became a pastor. I think I’ll start signing my name with xoxo just like you always did.


I’ll miss you, Grams, but I certainly won’t forget you. I’m forever grateful that you were willing to hang around for enough years to see your first great grandchild, and I promise I will tell her all about you.

 

Jesus and the Woman at the Well

In her Lenten Reflections booklet, Ruth Haley Barton says,

During Lent we are called to enter more intentionally into prayer, self-examination and repentance for the purpose of restoration and renewal. As painful as it is to be exposed at this level, awakening is evidence of God’s Grace.

Using the story of Jesus and this Samaritan woman we’re going to explore awakening to God’s grace. I want to invite you to join me in the process of restoration and renewal of our souls and to experience the belonging Jesus offers us. 

Last Sunday we read the verses 16-17 of John 3, which say “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

In Chapter 4 of John we see Jesus putting his teaching about salvation into practice. Without using words Jesus shows his disciples that THIS is what he meant by loving the whole world, giving love and belonging to this woman, this Samaritan woman, this abandoned Samaritan woman.

Most of the sermons I’ve heard about this Samaritan woman describe the forgiveness of Jesus and the sinfulness of the woman. But there is no mention of forgiveness or promiscuity here – we have read that into the text. Perhaps this woman’s story is different than that. Perhaps her story is more like ours than we’d like to admit. Though the details may be unique to her story, I believe each one of us is longing for relationship and acceptance, just as she was. And I believe that Jesus offers the same belonging and salvation to each of us as he offered to the Samaritan woman.

This woman had been married five times and she has been abandoned five times…abandoned through death of a spouse or divorce, likely due to her barrenness. The ability to bear children in ancient times was seen as the primary purpose of a woman, carrying on a male’s lineage was the entire point of marriage. If this woman was incapable of this “basic biological function”, she would surely be rejected. Thus when she meets Jesus at the well, she is thirsty for more than water. This woman is in need of acceptance, of relationship, of belonging.

My own story is not unlike this Samaritan woman’s. As a young married woman, I wanted nothing more than to have children. I had framed my future and my sole purpose in motherhood. Thus, I was completely shaken when my body’s functioning wasn’t “normal” and healthy. I, too, was barren. I spent five years of sorrow and darkness and questioning my worth and belonging. My friends were having children, women’s retreats would gather and discuss their kids, and I was on the outside. My infertility was even used as a weapon against me when some people questioned my effectiveness in church ministry if we didn’t have children. How could we possibly connect with the community without kids? These types of statements were both cruel and untrue. Though we knew these words were not of God, the shaming from outsiders was hard to bear.

Gradually my darkness began to transform me. I turned to God with more intensity than ever before. Gently and graciously, He began to unravel the strings I had tied up in my worth as a mother. He began to reveal to me the truths: I was valuable… apart from whether I had children or not. Kids would not fulfill me, my husband could not fulfill me, a job or ministry could not fulfill me. Jesus told me I was loved and I had belonging in him, no strings attached. This is the message of salvation for each of us – love and belonging.

So back to Sychar…there’s Jesus interacting in the most unlikely places with the most unlikely people. Meeting at a well was somewhat scandalous in itself, for wells were often the place where love-matches were made. Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Zipporah, and others like them met their spouses at a well. Jesus’s Jewish heritage came with an unspoken rule to not interact with their rebel-cousins, the Samaritans. And as a man, Jesus was ignoring all sorts of social protocol by interacting with a woman, going as far as to ask her to share her drinking vessel with him. He was risking his reputation in order to share the refreshing streams of God’s love with this thirsty woman.

Even in the Exodus passage we read about how physical needs drive us to God. In chapter 17, the Israelites are complaining and arguing with Moses about how terrible their living conditions were. They were so overcome with their selfishness and their thirst that they went as far as to complain that they were no longer slaves in Egypt! Moses was afraid their rage was going to result in his stoning. (Talk about “hangry”!) In verse 6, God provides the miraculous water from the rock at Horeb and Moses commemorates the occasion by naming the location Massah and Meribah which mean “Test and Quarrel.”

But the thing about each of us, and the Samaritan woman, and the Israelites is our thirst is so much deeper than a dry mouth. Our physical symptoms or outward actions are often an expression of an inward spiritual need.  How often do you find yourself acting out in anger or impatience when the real problem isn’t really your kids or your husband or the barista or the guy in the car next to you. The real cause of your turmoil is something inside you. The stress or selfishness or jealousy causes us to act out, and those feelings are all rooted in a need to be filled with the living waters of Jesus. When we look inside ourselves and begin to dig through the mess we’ve created – the broken relationships, the poor self-image, the fear about money or anxiety about future plans – we find that at our core we need belonging. We try desperately to fill ourselves and take away the ache of belonging…that dream job, the perfect house, that friendship, the 401K, the fairytale wedding, the marriage, those kids, that college degree…none of it works, friends. All of this can just mask the problem unless we let Jesus walk us through the process of releasing our desires and our inadequacies and to be filled with him alone. It’s terrifying, I’m not gonna lie. But what I know for certain is that Jesus wants to save us from ourselves. He wants to give us living water that wells up to eternal life. By believing in him and following him, we find the belonging and we find salvation. And we, like the Samaritan woman, can’t wait to share this truth with everyone we meet.

This woman kept asking more and more questions of Jesus. “How can you be asking me for a drink? Where do you get this living water? Are you greater than our ancestors? Will you condemn me for the life I’ve lived? Where should we worship you? Are you really the Messiah?”

And she believes him. She knows he must be the Messiah and runs to tell everyone in her city that very day. The truth sets us free, friends! And this woman was changed from a shamed barren reject of society to a missionary for the good news about Jesus.

So how does Jesus want to save you? What shame or struggle does he want to free you from? What does he want you to release to his care so he can fill up your real need, your need to belong.

This is salvation, friends: to find acceptance and belonging in Jesus.

 

Enduring Presence,
goal and guide,
you go before and await our coming.
Only our thirst compels us
beyond complaint to conversation,
beyond rejection to relationship.
Pour your love into our hearts,
that, refreshed and renewed,
we may invite others to the living water
given to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

source

 

Sermon given at Monroe Free Methodist Church based on the texts for the 3rd Sunday in Lent

 

Stay in the Cloud

 

The essence of this exercise is nothing else but a simple and direct reaching out to God for himself…not (asking) to be released from pain or for his reward to be increased; in a word (the practitioner) asks for nothing but God himself; so much so that s/he takes no account or regard of whether s/he is in pain or in joy, but only that the will of Him who s/he loves be fulfilled.

I sat with this concept for a long time during this week.  Before I read these words, the Lord was already cultivating this soil in my heart, leading me to a patient lingering in the Tension. Is it possible that God wants me to wait in the tension, to stay in the Land of the Unresolved? I have always longed for direction and a solution. Lord, just tell me what to do and I will do it. I am an active (struggling with the contemplative) after all. I am willing to have the difficult conversations, to confront or to apologize. But to just wait?!

Waiting (and not forcing an answer or solution) is a difficult concept, and one that I have honestly not considered. My form of waiting is really just badgering the Lord for answers. Yet God is asking me to be with Him. It is not time to move on past the pain. This land, this tension between the Already and the Not Yet, is where He wants me. Perhaps an “answer” (in the form I’m imagining) will not come. Maybe I need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, settling in deeper to the heart of God because what else is there, really?

 

These are reflections on my reading of The Cloud of Unknowing for my Master’s class in Formational Theology.

 

My Loving Priority

As part of my grad school coursework, I am instructed to participate in various prayer practices during the week. Last week in my practice of the Jesus prayer, I noticed two important shifts in my thinking and I am thankful for my experience with the Lord. Praying the Jesus Prayer is simple and profound. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

During my prayers, I found myself convicted of my priorities at the start of my morning. I always begin my day in my certain seat in the living room, Bible open, journal and pen in hand. This rhythm helps to start my day in peace and with Jesus. But for the past few weeks, I had selfishly and lazily allowed my iPad and all of its social media pitfalls to lead me away from my Loving priority. What shocked me about this realization wasn’t so much that I shouldn’t start my day on Instagram (I knew that already), but that my social media interaction at 5 or 6 am was actually harmful to my mind and spirit. Thanks to the tender grace of Jesus, I noticed that my body was already tensing up, engaging with the exterior world before I was adequately bathed in his loving acceptance. My heart was racing, my mind following suit. Oh, Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me…

 
Aside from this conviction, I was thankful for the way that this prayer was taken with me into my day. I found myself praying this Jesus prayer while I was driving, refocusing on my Love and confessing my need. As I took multiple stroller-walks with my daughter, I meditated on the Jesus prayer with each plodding step. At first I had started a podcast, something mindless and fun. This isn’t a bad thing, in fact, sometimes just for fun is just what God wants of me. But last week, with the rhythmic steps and the sunny skies, I am thankful for praying again and again,

Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Lent is bigger than Fish

My dear church family,
You guys have my heart, seriously. Wherever I am, whomever I am with, it’s inevitable that I’m bursting with joyful stories of you. Kevin and I continually thank God for calling us to live and lead in this community. We are thankful to call Monroe our home, MFMC our church, and all of you “our people.” But enough mushy stuff…

Did you know we are entering the new season in the Church calendar? It’s called Lent and it’s so much more than McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. The Lenten season is about asking ourselves the question, “How do I need to be returning to God with my whole heart?Throughout the next 40 days (not counting Sundays – because those are “feast days” and always for celebration) we will journey through Lent together. We will begin with our (new this year) Ash Wednesday service, coming face to face with our mortality and our sin, taking communion together, and beginning Lent on purpose.

The word “lent” actually means springtime. This makes for a beautiful picture of the spiritual life. As we look outside in the months approaching spring, the weather is unpredictable, the temperatures bipolar. Despite the hard ground and the harsh elements, brave new seedlings begin popping out of the earth. Friends, this is us. Maybe the soil of our hearts has grown a little hardened over the past season. Guess what? God has never stopping working in our lives. Just like the seed that fell, our hearts go through times of darkness where the seed seems to die. But under the surface life is happening. And then there’s this green growth cropping up out of nowhere! Alas! HOPE!

So as we walk through the somber and self-examining season of Lent, ask God to give you ways to return to Him with your whole heart. And together we’ll walk towards the glory of the Easter resurrection and newness of life!

Grace + Peace,

Pastor Melanie

The Slow Work of Grace

I know there are plenty of analogies for how Americans have created an “instant gratification” culture. We like fast cars and fast food, microwaves and Netflix without commercials. (Can I get an “Amen?!”) I like all of those things too. But in the past few weeks, I have been continually reminded that our cultural mindset produces a major issue for the work of spiritual growth. God’s work in our life does NOT go at our speed. The work of God’s grace is slow, painfully slow at times.

Saying God is slow in his work probably isn’t the best way of saying it, though. It’s not really a time-frame thing. Spiritual formation isn’t linear (as much as I try to make it so). This journey in Christ is weaving and wandering, loving and kind, exhilarating and frustrating. There isn’t really a speed associated with how God works out his grace in our lives. There can’t be. God’s grace is unquantifiable.  God’s grace is a continual presence in our life, a constant invitation to join him in the dance of love.

There are moments when you think you’re making it. “I am on the right track,” you think to yourself, “Finally!” You find yourself energized by various spiritual disciplines, loving corporate worship services, intentionally connecting with others. But then Anger rears her ugly head. Anxiety creeps out of the crevices. Pride stomps in uninvited. And you realize you are so far from the mark of steady growth, still desperate for God.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

This “Jesus Prayer” is apt for every moment of your life, no matter the season. Breath out these words. Breath in his mercy. It’s bountiful enough for you today.

When God Shows Up

Throughout the past seven days, I have experienced the peace of God in a more surprising way than ever before. In the weeks leading up to my Master’s class residency, I was anticipating a serious contention with anxiety. I would be away from my family – including my one year old daughter for the first time – with people I didn’t know, working within a schedule I wasn’t getting to set. I waited for the fear to grip me, for the nausea to sweep over me as it has countless times before.

But it never came.

I got in the car after hugging my most-loved people and drove off with confidence rather than despair. For the first time in my life, I didn’t experience one ounce of homesickness in my time out of my element. God showed up. God met me in the most obvious way and gave me residing peace every moment of the day.

In our Master’s program, we’re working through intense dialogue, having read large stacks of books with weighty words, and we’re hearing from professors who challenge our status quo. As we look at the syllabus and the assignments looming and as I open up the syllabus for the upcoming course, I anticipate that fear-wave to crash over me again. Every single class I’ve ever taken includes at least one mild moment of panic as I wonder how on earth I’ll get it all done. But God showed up. Not a drop of worry tip-toed into my thoughts. I didn’t question, didn’t fear. And it felt weird. But this crazy kind of peace is more than welcome.

On Wednesday during my spiritual direction meeting, I was trying to encapsulate the peace I’ve been experiencing. My thoughts have been so clear. My mind has been so present, with the subject and with the people. It all felt so foreign. I couldn’t put my finger on the “why,” but it felt very much like I had a rare moment of clarity as I gazed back at my old mind and looked ahead into my new mind. I was standing on the precipice of change. I had an opportunity to leave behind the mindset of fear and anxiety, of not-good-enoughs and incompetence, of lie-believing and criticism-lobbing. Would I step forward into the truer version of me, the self who knows its worth in Christ, the one who speaks truth, lives in love, and exudes joy over judgment?

How could I express my embrace of the transformation toward which Jesus was leading me? 

My spiritual director invited me to open my palms, a sign of receptivity to the work of the Spirit and my lighter grip on my life. This open-palmed liturgy will become a practice of mine. Yes, during worship and private prayer. But also during moments when I see the Fear creeping around the corner or notice Shame blowing into the crevices. When I feel the need to grip tightly to control, I will open my palms. Release. And I will keep my palms open to gratefully welcome whatever or whomever God brings to me. Receive.