Monday, February 29, 2016

Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin

This Sunday, we will be joined by Rev. Dr. Bob Gibbs, who will be preaching the word and presiding over Communion. He is our District Superintendent, and technically he is my boss so that means I have to behave on Sunday. He will be sharing a message from Luke 15: 1-10, which are both parables, one about lost sheep and the other about lost coins. You do not want to miss this great opportunity to hear him preach.

These parables, especially the first one, make me think about times I have felt lost. I remember 6 years ago when I was about to graduate college. As the months wound down towards receiving my diploma, I became more and more worried. To me, this should  have been a very rewarding time, but it wasn't really. I felt lost. Here I was, soon to be college graduate, with no real prospects for jobs, no real inspiration for career paths. It was at a retreat with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that I was found: God seemingly singled me out as a lost sheep and spoke directly to me. It was this moment where I felt led to seminary and ultimately called to ministry. Has there been a time in your life where you felt this way? Has God ever "singled you out"? In this season of Lent, I feel that I am being relentlessly pursued by God once again, called back into God's loving arms. What sets these two occasions of being "found," is that I had to acknowledge that I was lost in the first place. Are you feeling lost? God wants to find you.

Like this second parable about the lost coin, I think that God treasures us and values us. God means to find us, to have us, and to use us for good in the world. In these moments where I felt lost, then was found, I have then known that God seeks me out because God actually has something to do with me. And God has something to do with you, too. You are worth everything to God. God loves you, and God can find you.

In Christ,


Monday, February 22, 2016

Mess with the Menu

We as human beings have a great menu of emotions to "choose" from, to experience. We get sad, disappointed, jealous, greedy, depressed, lonely, excited...we experience joy, concern, worry, anxiety fear, and the list goes on and on. There's no telling what a day might bring us.

One of the emotions that Luke 13:1-9 brings to mind is anger. For the most part, we don't like to be angry. If something has made us angry or brought anger out of us, we would rather not have experienced that situation. If emotions were cuisine, anger would more than likely leave a sour taste in our mouths. More specifically, this passage helps me become aware of self-righteous anger. This is the seasoning that one may add to anger to make it more "tasty." This kind of anger is easier for us to swallow.

This is the kind of anger that says: "I am angry because something did not turn out my way." It makes us feel superior. This dish also reheats very easily; it tastes almost the same every time!

But now we are in the season of Lent, and Jesus is calling us back to God (this is what repentance is). Self-righteousness is by nature a form a selfishness (notice the common preface "self"). The Galileans in this passage are angry, and perhaps they should be. Their anger turns into self-righteous anger because the folks acted like they were better than their enemies. Even if they were, that is not what Jesus was calling them to think about. Jesus called them to repentance, which is focused on God, rather than enemies.

The Galileans from this story expected for Jesus to agree with them, to affirm their stance on the moral high ground, to tell them what a very fine meal they were serving up. But, he didn't. He contradicted them and called them to turn back to God. And I believe that Jesus is still knocking us off our moral high horses. He brings us back to earth, back to reality, and back to God.

This is enough to mess with your menu and with your appetite for self-righteous anger.

Listen to Jesus calling for you to repent.

In Christ,


P.S. I have found that a helpful question to ask myself when I am angry is "how will this help me love God and neighbor better?" If your anger is based on how someone else acts, it may be self-righteous. This is a tough pill to swallow, so I suggest you go to God when you are angry, using this question as your guide.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Fox is in the Hen House

Imagine that you are a billy goat, and you are placed in the territory of a massive Siberian tiger, given up for food. Well, that's exactly what happened a few months ago at a safari park in Russia, except it didn't exactly work out as planned. Although the zoo keeper regularly feeds this tiger, Amur, billy goats, this one was different. Instead of hunting and eating the billy goat, they seemed to become friends...They ate together, slept nearby one another, and even played together---they were seen head butting each other, just for the fun of it!

Staff at the park say the male tiger, who has been given live animals to hunt and eat twice a week for three years, did not touch the billy goat when it entered the enclosure because the goat did not show any fear.

"No one had taught the goat to be afraid of tigers," the park said in a statement.

The zoo chief said that this friendship was nothing short of a miracle, and went on to say "People, take a look at yourselves. There are wars everywhere -- Ukraine, Syria. While such different animals can live together in peace."

We come this week, our second week of Lent, to Luke 13:31-35. The "fox," Herod, is in the "hen house," the kingdom of God to which God has invited all people, "as a hen gathers her brood under her wing."

But it didn't quite turn out the way it did for Amur the Siberian tiger and Timur the billy goat. Or did it?...

There's an old African-American spiritual song that describes the Kingdom of God like this: "There's plenty good room, plenty good room, plenty good room in my Father's kingdom."

In the gospel of Luke, this is a central and reoccurring theme; what a great message for this gospel to keep hammering home! In this gospel reading for the second Sunday in Lent, Jesus speaks in tones of abject disappointment and downright heartbreak at the refusal of his own people to grasp this concept. Jesus' tone of anger and frustration is directed to the disappointment in his people to draw near, to gather, and to come home. 

Jesus' ministry is driven by his desire, his dream, to gather God's children together and closer to God's embrace. The gospel of Luke tells the stories of all kinds of people drawing near to God:

Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20) are the first to hear the good news of Jesus' birth. (Shepherds were not only low in status, but they were also seen as dishonest; herdsman often grazed their flocks on other people's lands). They represent people on the fringe of society.

A peasant girl named Mary sang a song of revolution to the Savior's coming: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden." (Luke 1:46-47). Here, God shows that those on the edge of the social order are drawn in to the kingdom of God; Mary shows us that anyone, regardless of their social status can worship God.

In Luke, Jesus tells of a prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32) welcomed home by a father whose compassion is extravagant and whose love seems reckless.

In Luke, Jesus tells of a good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) to folks that often thought that the only "good" Samaritan was a dead one. 

The gospel of Luke remembers a "good thief," who is welcomed into God's Kingdom while dying on a cross next to Jesus (Luke 23:39-43).

And God has invited you to be gathered in. You, in all of your brokenness, confusion, doubt, and sin, are welcomed to God's embrace. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Repent and Draw Near

This week begins the Christian season of Lent. Each year during Lent, we are all invited to join Jesus on the journey to the cross. Lent is a season where Christians, Jesus followers, are invited once again to pick up their cross and travel with Jesus. The cross is the cross of love and discipleship, faithfulness and devotion, repentance and renewal. Part of how we will attempt to do that here at Gray Memorial is by using the book "The Way" (Adam Hamilton) to help guide us along the path of Jesus; we will be using this book to follow in the footsteps of Jesus that ultimately led to the cross.
(We meet at 4:00 PM on Sundays).

Ash Wednesday begins this journey, although Jesus did not observe this day. This day is designed to begin the Lenten season with a sense of focus on God and our commitment to draw near to God for the next 40 days. On this day, we remember that "for dust you are and to dust you will return" (Genesis 3:19). This reminds us that we are human beings in need of God's grace in our lives, of God's presence. But this is not a passive affair. Although God's grace is available for us all, God invites us to a life that is committed to this grace. God can make your life new, restore it to it's fullness, if we take the opportunity to pursue God. The season of Lent helps us to do that. During these 40 days, you have the opportunity to dedicate your life to God again. You have the chance remind yourself of the goodness of God, and boldly run towards God.

This running towards God, this repentance, this commitment to God, takes place in many forms. For some, the season of Lent is a time to give up something that stands in the way of their devotion to God, i.e., limiting time in front of the TV or online so that it is freed up to read Scripture and/or pray. For others, this a time of addition: practices of devotion and piety are added to the "schedule" in order to pursue God intentionally. Others fast and pray in their pursuit of God. Search your heart, pray to God, and reflect on what will help you pursue God more intentionally this season.

The proverbial "elephant in the room" with all of this chatter about how meaningful the season of Lent can be is that we are tempted to do something else with our time and energy. I hear you. There's nothing I want to do more on some days than prop my feet up and watch copious amounts of television. I deserve it! When I wake up in the morning, the last thing I want to do is get out of bed and read. I like food; it tastes good and makes me happy, and often provides a great atmosphere for fellowship. I understand! There are temptations to decline the invitation and tell God, tell ourselves, we don't need to do more, what we really need is to rest and relax.  I hear you loud and clear.

Lent is not another thing for Christians to do for God so that God will like them. The motivation, also, should not be to appear righteous before others (Matthew 6 has some things to say about this). This season of Lent is about YOU. God will not change, and others' opinions of you do not determine where your spiritual journey will end up. Jesus' ended at the cross, and that's where ours can lead us, too. We are tempted to want our journies to end up elsewhere: success, wealth, etc. Jesus' journey ended at the cross, although he was tempted (Luke 4:1-13) to have it end elsewhere. Jesus was tempted with temporary things (nourishment, wealth, safety) just like we are. Although probably no one is offering you the glory of ruling over all of the kingdoms (Luke 4:7), in this life you will have to choose between following God and following something else, just like Jesus was. This season is an opportunity to choose the path to the cross, to choose to follow Jesus. And your life will never be more empty and, simultaneously, full at the same time. Take your chance.

In Christ,


Monday, February 1, 2016

2/17/16---Mountain High and Valley Low

This afternoon, I went to Occupational Services over at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare (TMH) to receive a tuberculosis (TB) test. To do this, the nurse had to inject a small amount of tuberculosis protein into my inner forearm. In 2 days, I will go back to this nurse and she will see if a small red bump has formed at the site of the injection. If there is a red bump, that means I have been exposed, at some point, to TB.

The reason I have to do this test is because it is likely that I will be exposed to TB while volunteering at TMH during my unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). There is an inherent risk of being exposed to this disease because of where I will be and who I will be near, so this test is meant to measure that risk. 

This week, we come to Transfiguration Sunday; we remember Jesus' mountaintop experience with some of the disciples. This week's gospel lesson tells a remarkable story (Luke 9:2-43). Jesus has called the 12 disciples and given them advice for their ministry, he had given them authority to minister, he called them to feed the 5000, and Peter confessed him to be the Messiah, the Savior. After this, Jesus tells the 12 about how he will suffer and die a sinner's death but be raised up to life, and he says to them “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24). Then, Jesus goes up to a mountain to pray with James, John, and Peter. While he was praying, Jesus shined, and Moses and Elijah showed up and affirmed what Jesus was saying about going to Jerusalem to be convicted and hung on a cross. So of course, Peter, James, and John were asleep. Yes, asleep. They were about to miss this! Thank goodness they woke up, and saw what has happening on this mountaintop. Peter wanted to stay there, and who wouldn't? 

But Jesus is not your typical guy. He is the Lord, the son of God, so of course he does things a little differently. He does not want to stay here, and God agrees ("this is my Son...listen to Him!"). So what does Jesus do? He goes back down to the valley. He knows he has work to do down there, not up on the mountain. What immediately follows this mountaintop experience speaks loudly of Jesus' character, of who Jesus was. He goes right from the mountain down to the valley and heals a boy with an unclean spirit. He goes down to where there is much risk, but much ministry to be done. His mission, which we read in Luke 4:18-19, is not to stay safe, but to liberate the oppressed. 

When I go into TMH, I know it is risky. Hours upon hours of visiting sick, confused, scared patients is not safe. I am not expecting any mountaintop experiences, I am expecting something even greater: I want the valley low experience. You want to know why? I'd love to say that it's because I think it's something Jesus would do, but that's not the reason (although I think he would do things like this today). I am doing it because someone has done it for me. I've never had surgery or a life-threatening illness, thank goodness, but I have had experiences of pain, confusion, anxiety, and fear. And folks showed up for me, comforted me, listened to me...ministered to me. The impact that has had on my life, and many others', is profound. I believe that the Kingdom of God breaks through into this world through those valley-low experiences. On the mountaintop, whatever a spiritual high for you looks like, you may feel loved like you never have before by God, But it never ends there; God's grace always goes back down into the valley, because that is where the people are.