Wednesday, March 23, 2011
As your pastor, my life is centered on our church. (Note that I said "our church," not "our churches." We have two legal lives, but one life in Christ. We are one church.) As a single woman, I can over-focus on the church just like some of you may focus on your jobs too much. I can worry and obsess over where the money will come from and who will step up to take on the work that is the province of the congregation. I can lie awake at night and wonder, "what do we do now?"
Fortunately I have fleeting moments of sanity. In those moments I remember what I heard recently. A speaker said the question is not, "what do we do?" but rather, "what is God up to in the world and among us?" She reminded us that the initiative belongs to God. Our job is to discern where God is working and to get on board.
Now, that can be just as hard as trying to figure out what to do. It's scary to trust that God has a plan, and it's scary to commit to something that we may see only dimly. But it is the faithful way. If we worry about what we should do, we push God out. Discerning and following use as much energy as worrying and figuring, but they use it much more efficiently and effectively. It's the difference between worrying and praying.
Asking what God is up to also leaves open the question of where our church fits into God's plan. If we put ourselves at the center, we may assume that we have to keep our church going. But if we ask what God is doing, we may find that some new answer emerges. Does God want us to be here now? In five years? In ten? If not, we can serve God better by finding out what God is up to and getting on board. If God does want us here, why is that? What purpose are we to serve?
Please include in your Lenten spiritual practice a time each day to pray to know what God is up to among us. Pray that we as a church may be faithful stewards of what we have received and what we will receive. And when you think you have a sense of what God is up to, let me know!
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Some people are convinced that God caused this earthquake. They think it is a condemnation of Japan for not being a Christian nation. Some think it is a way of converting the Japanese to Christ, by showing them the error of their ways. Others are just horrified, and think God is inexplicable and horrible.
I think all these responses are based on a mistaken idea of how God works in the world. God – the Source of all being – created the world, and us. That included making a planet that cools, that shifts, that cracks and changes. That included making us, carbon-based life forms that grow and die. Sometimes the planet shakes, and we are hurt, but God did not “cause” that to happen at that time and place. God does not have a calendar with appointments for disasters.
If God did not cause the earthquake, where is God in all this? God is the source of strength that enables us to go in and help one another. God is the source of the intellect and courage that work against nuclear meltdown. God runs along with us, redeeming and recycling all the good and bad of our lives.
What does this mean for prayer? If God does not cause things, does God prevent things? Can our prayer change the world? I think prayer can change the world, but not so much by prevention of natural events as by equipping us to face what comes. Prayer can bind us together, and so help prevent tragedies that come as the result of human division and strife. Prayer can sustain people by reconnecting us to the source of life. Prayer is not magic. It is connecting to the will of God, gaining strength to be part of God’s healing and renewing power.
Please pray for the victims in Japan and their families, and for the rescue workers and the crews at the nuclear plants. Pray for the courage and hope to trust in God even when we don’t understand or like what we see.
Love God. Love one another. Serve the world. That’s how God works.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Welcome to Lent! I mean that. Welcome. Lent is a special time. It’s spring cleaning for the soul. During Lent we pull out all our spiritual “stuff” and see what needs to be cleaned up and refreshed, what needs to be dropped, and what we need to acquire to make our soul welcoming and warm. It’s work – make no mistake about that – but the result is worth it.
We begin with prayer. Finding time for quiet reflection is like looking in the closet. We can’t know what we need to do until we look. We need to open the door and turn on the light. Our examination should include questions about how we use our time, talent, and money. Are we keeping the Sabbath, or are we running to and fro? Are we taking time to pray, to rest, to enjoy our family? And how are we using the time we have? Are we contributing to our community? Are we part of God’s healing of the world, or are we wasting time in activities that leave us feeling worse than when we started? Are we spending our money wisely, or – again – wasting it on things that leave us feeling unfulfilled? These are all worth asking.
Fasting is part of housecleaning. Fasting is not only about food, although that is also important. We can also fast from attitudes or actions that deny the goodness of God’s creation. We can fast from overwork, or from Facebook, or from criticism. Through fasting we find out what we really need, and what we can do without – or even do better without.
The discipline of “taking something on for Lent” is like going out and getting those new blinds, or drapes, or rugs. We take something on in order to grow in God’s likeness, to be more like what God has in mind for us. We may take on a service project. We may take on patience or perseverance. We may start an exercise program. We may decide to check in on friends and family. Whatever we take on, it’s important that we be aiming at being part of God’s plan for the world. The point is not just to be virtuous. The point is to grow in God’s image and likeness, to know God better, and to reflect God to others.
If we take Lent seriously, Easter will find us renewed and strengthened: our souls cleaned and shining, windows open to the world. So welcome to Lent!