if it is important to you:find a way [a sermon]

a sermon preached with the texas youth academy 2015 on discipleship day (july 16, 2015)–in a world worship service at southwestern university–perkins chapel.

deuteronomy 11:18-21 you shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.

brothers, sisters and siblings, i wonder if you know what it is to be held in tenderness. for someone who loves you to cradle you in their arms and hold you. maybe the warm embrace from a parent, or a kiss on the cheek from a grandparent, or a touch on the arm from a mentor or teacher. i wonder and i pray that you know that touch–the physical manifestation of compassion and love.

if you would, put your hands out like this: close your eyes with me–and i want you to think about that sort of tenderness–with your hands still up and your eyes still closed, try to remember a time where you were upset and someone wrapped you up tightly in a hug, or held your hand or placed their hand on your shoulder or a shared moment of eye-contact where you feel the connection [hand on heart, hand outstretched] so intensely it feels like you’ve made physical contact. remember that time and try to remember what it felt like–the weight of their hand, the warmth of another living being coming into contact with you. hold that moment and that feeling in your hands:

and now if you would pray with me--holy and compassionate and tender god, open our ears that we may hear your voice, our minds that we may build a higher ceiling for those who come after us, our hearts that they may look like yours and our hands to share your gentleness with our neighbors. and may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o lord, our rock and our redeemer, amen.

you may open your eyes–and if you are still holding your memory and feeling of tenderness, cup it gently, don’t forget it–we’re coming back to it, soon.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

the theme for today has been discipleship. in general to be a disciple means to be a follower. what we are talking about here is to be a disciple, a follower, of jesus christ, son of god, in trinity with the holy spirit. we are not talking just about the twelve disciples of jesus we read about in scripture–but also us who have and us who continue to, day by day and those who will one day respond to the nudges of the holy spirit through prevenient grace to recognize our place at the table with those called christian.

it is evident, by your being here, that each of you is a disciple of jesus–we may carry questions and pain and secrets and serious doubt about this god and church thing: but you showed up to ask, and learn, and question and seriously (and sometimes not so seriously) reflect on a life of faith. you found a way to be here.

lets check on our tender moments: may i see it? good, good. thank you. keep holding them.

this pericope, or reading, opens with “you shall put these words of mine…” whose words? what words? looking backwards in deuteronomy we learn that moses is our narrator–and the words he is talking about are the words of god–behind us we have, among other things, the decalogue or ten commandments and we have the shema–like katie preached on our very first night here together. these are the words god is telling us to put in our hearts, bind on our hands and fix upon our foreheads.

i would like to couch my next statement by saying that i am not condoning secretly getting tattoos behind your parent or guardian’s backs. n-o-t not the point of the following story.

when i was nineteen years old i got my first tattoo. it was the summer after my first year of college and my childhood best friend and i wanted to commemorate our friendship and an amazing summer of working at camp together with matching tattoos, right here:

we were nineteen, it was the early two-thousands, and so of course we got matching icthus (christian fish) tattoos at the end of the summer on our way back to our homes. i had almost almost almost made it through the week or so back in my parents home before heading back to university when i was finally found out. i was ever-so-innocently loading the dishwasher the evening before i was to leave–and leaned across to put a dish in when i suddenly felt a rush of air on skin that shouldn’t be feeling air. before i really had time to process what was going on i hear my mothers lamenting cry, “what did you do to that perfect body i made?!” and i said: ” :\

and it was really just the beginning–i now have five with a few more in the works. some of you today at lunch asked about the raven on my shoulder (if you weren’t there and you want to know, you can absolutely ask me later) and while i was telling you about its meaning i also told you why i have tattoos in the first place: it is because i am forgetful.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

i need a way to remember the “these words” from god that are referenced in deuteronomy–and for me, my tattoos are one way to put them in my heart and soul, to bind them as a sign on my hand and to fix them as an emblem on my forehead. as a disciple i need these to remember.

this morning andy taught us about a middle eastern, what? middle eastern understanding of discipleship. this whole discipleship thing isn’t just about me and my jesus. we do not claim ourselves as individual 10 feet away from everyone trying to only have our personal relationship with jesus–no, no… true discipleship is we claim ourselves together with one another having and being 1 foot friends.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

when we are looking for god not just in the sky above us and not just inward inside of us–but with our heads up and looking for who are still ten feet away we are doing the work of a disciple.

i recently had the privilege to make pilgrimage to israel and palestine under the leadership of our bishop in the texas annual conference. while we were in jerusalem our group had the opportunity to go and pray at the western wall-sometimes called the wailing wall-on the temple mount. this wall was build by herod the great in 19BCE and is believed to be the wall that would have been closest to the temple where the holy of holies rested. where god’s presence dwelled. and, once a year, the high priest would enter into the holy of holies–the sole human to enter into god’s presence.

this place is considered holy still today by our jewish siblings–and so when our group gathered we saw men and women praying at the wall. in judiasm they take this passage from deuteronomy very literally–and we saw what are called phylacteries bound to the heads and forearms of those praying. a phylactery is a small leather box that you tie to your forehead, and your left arm when it is time to pray. inside of that box is the shema–do you remember it? “hear, o israel: the lord your god is one. you shall love the lord your god with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

we as christians tend to not physically bind these words to our bodies. (except perhaps those of us with theological tattoos.) even so, remember what i told you: i can be a bit forgetful and sometimes ADD takes over–so i have to find ways to remember. while standing as a group i had stopped listening closely to our guide and was watching a group of teenagers in military uniforms who were regathering from their time at the wall. when i looked our group had already dispersed- i was a little confused about where to go (because i had missed our instructions) and saw bishop huie walking, and so followed along behind her letting her, unknowingly i think, show me the way.

tears came to my eyes as i walked behind my bishop to an ancient place of continual and constant prayer made holy not only by god’s ancient presence in the holy of holies, but by the presence of the holy spirit gifted to us through jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension and by the prayers and tears of millions of jews and christians and wonderers through the centuries who have touched that wall and tucked their prayers on paper into its crevices. in that moment her embodiment of discipleship was for me a living, breathing, has skin on, embodiment of a phylactery. she had bound those instructions upon her heart and soul and served as a physical reminder for this sometimes forgetful disciple.

it is good to practice being a disciple even when we aren’t sure anyone is paying attention. you never know who may be following you.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

we are called to be disciples. we are called to follow jesus not because it is good for you or i individually. but because we cannot be us without one another.

do you still have your tender moment? it’s time for it. go ahead and hold it in your hands –it is okay to keep it in your lap, or hold it up somehow–just hold it. close your eyes for a moment again and feel that embrace, that hand on the shoulder, the power of eye contact. feel it in your heart, your fingertips and your tummy.

and picture the scene of jesus and the disciples around the table of the last supper. and remember how much trouble jesus got into for dining with people who weren’t jewish. jesus took that old law of only like going with like–with only those born as jewish and “able bodied” as worthy of god’s love and said “this is not how it is going to be anymore.” those who were sick, those who had differently abled bodies, women, sinners were left only scraps that they had to scavenge from under the tables of the wealthy, well connected and born by happenstance as jewish. through his incarnation, life, death and resurrection he placed his wounded hands on each of their faces and tenderly lifted them from underneath the table and said, “no, not down there–not scrounging for scraps–that is not where you belong. you belong here at this table–you can have my seat.”

take the tender moment you have been holding and feeling and expand it as far out as you can imagine. and if you do that right now, you are going to encounter someone else’s hands–someone else who is a part of this family of disciples of jesus christ. it is your job, siblings, now that you are seated at the table to look around and see who is not with us. and to extend your hands and body mind and soul in tenderness and say “we are not us without you.” that is what it means to be a disciple.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

who is missing? are there people who don’t look like you at the table? are there people who don’t think like you? whose theology or politics are different than yours? who is missing? are your enemies missing? are you willing to make space for those you hate? for those who smell bad, for those with untreated mental disabilities who say things that don’t make sense? what about for those who are mean and violent? jesus still says they’re invited. and if you are a disciple you are still tasked with saying “we are not us without you.” who is missing? are the rich at the table? what about the middle class? what about the poor?

the potentially offensive thing about grace is that it is actually for everyone. everyone. we are not us without you.

it’s hard. and frequently makes us uncomfortable, and we feel compelled to do weird things like get into a swimming pool fully clothed because it makes somebody smile. or get knocked on the head a toy because we wanted to be close. weird things like sit on the ground under a bridge, holding a strangers hands and praying with your eyes closed. y’all. that’s weird. but it’s right.

we are not us without you. and we are not us without them.

this is not your home. your homes are out there–we have been here together to learn and play and worship and create and become family, but it is almost time to go home. and your job, dear TYA family, is to go be a disciple out there. take these practices home and share them. remember that tender feeling and look to see who is 10 feet away and invited them into this 1 foot space with us. remember that we are all sometimes forgetful and need human phylacteries. pass the mac and cheese. and remember that we are a people who are radically inclusive–everyone is welcome.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.
we are not us without you.
we are not us without them.
find a way.

thanks be to god, amen.

phoenixes

you are not rising from the ashes, you are ashes re-membered. coaxed back into shape. re-formed. 

you are fire and flame and all consuming beauty. blazing. fire-life. 

you, dear love, are reborn from the smoke-remnant of the fire that was supposed to subdue.                           

the fire that was supposed to put you in your place so they could tell you who you are. so you could make them comfortable. 

but that’s not you. 

you? as fully you? rise above the othering they bring to you as socratic hemlock–meant to destroy–drink deeply but rise:

your warm, living and breathing body drawn heavenward on wings of flame and feather–not consumed but strengthened by the white heat–a contradiction on the wing. 

soaring. 

what is the plural for phoenix?              all of us.
  

on being washed and fed

a first offering for solcum union church and elkhart first united methodist church. july 5, 2015.

i was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the lord. would you pray with me? gracious god, send your holy spirit to be among us—to comfort and to guide us, that our hearts and minds may be open to what you would teach us this morning. and may the words of my lips and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, o lord, our rock and our redeemer, amen.
[on being washed and fed]

something really amazing happened late tuesday morning. i arrived at the parsonage for the first time i would call it home, and found that not only had my dining table already been assembled, but that some of you had already assembled yourselves around the table. some had come and gone by the time i arrived and there was a collection food growing in the fridge and on the counter. what a truly wonderful welcome. my gratitude for your gifts and for your presence, and your prayers as i have been journeying to slocum/elkhart swells my heart and is nourishing my soul already. and what a profound way to begin a week, and begin a season of life together, than today to gather around this table for communion. it is around this table that we are reminded of the importance of gathering around one another’s kitchen tables.

this morning’s gospel lesson is also about gathering around a table. jesus is with the disciples for their last meal. this is a story that, perhaps, is a familiar one—often remembered and retold during holy week, the final week of lent. the table, which is an important and a crucial part of the story, generally takes center stage. we focus on eating together, on gathering around the lord’s table for communion and the power of that spiritual food that feeds our souls.

john’s telling of the story, however, has a different heading than the other three: jesus washes the disciples feet. all of the other gospels are titled the preparation for the passover and the institution of the last supper. this is a story about eating, yes. but it is also a story about washing, about bathing. this story, this lesson is of eucharist/communion and of baptism.

within one lesson we find both of our sacraments as embodied and enacted by our Teacher and our Lord, jesus christ the son of god. within one lesson we find a humbling example of the purpose of both the church and of the pastor—this simple example we have been gifted shows us, as followers of christ what the heart of god looks like, and how we each can embody it, too.

the disciples are a walking people—their feet tend to get dirty. and this is long before the advent of the vacuum cleaner and disposable swiffer mops—it is difficult to keep the floor clean. also, dining practices are different than our ways of sitting and eating here: their feet are not safely tucked under a table far from anyone’s hands or the food. traditionally they would have lain on their sides and leaned over the table rather than sitting up over it. not much of a barrier between one’s feet and one’s food.

each home or host would provide water for guests to wash their feet upon arrival. if you were coming to my home i would provide this water for you at the front door where you would wash your own feet. or, if i had a slave, i could instruct him or her to wash your feet for you. so this is where the gospel lesson really turns things up on its head. jesus is the host. jesus is god incarnate. jesus is the Teacher (with a capitol ‘T’) jesus is the Master he is Lord. he is all of those things and he is servant. he removes his outer garments—ties a towel around his waist like slave—and performs a humiliating task of washing feet. 

[the purpose of the church and the pastor]

 i recently heard the Church (at large, not one in particular) referred to as a dying social club. as places where some still gather together to see and be seen by others in the community, and as places that are no longer relevant to our more and more fast-paced lives. i have spent a lot of time reading and researching those in my age group (frequently called millennials) and the generation following mine and what they and we want from the Church. i have a lot of feelings about this research—about who is doing it and why, about how it is reported and what parts of it are taken seriously or disregarded. but the feeling that rises to the top is that the Church was never really meant to be relevant before, so why are fighting tooth and nail to be something we were never intended to be?

and the same goes for clergy, for pastors. it is all the rage to be reading, studying and researching ways to be the most relevant pastor. if we are relevant, they will come! our numbers will grow! the bishop will notice me! so i feel like it is really important for me to share with you, right out of the gate, that my hope for the Church, and for this church is not to be relevant to the community.

my hope is not as your pastor to be relevant to you. no, my hope is listen to what the heart of god is saying in this community. my hope is to listen to what your hearts are saying. my hope is that we can share what we hear god whispering to each of our hearts together. that you share with me, and i share with you, and together we learn how to listen to the heart of god in slocum/elkhart, texas. this, far and above, is the purpose of the church and the pastor—and it has nothing to relevance. 

it was not relevant for jesus to kneel down, as a slave, to those following him. but it shows us the shape of god’s heart. jesus as both lord and servant teaches us how to be like god. this is the purpose of the church and the pastor: that together, you and i kneel in humility with each other, wash one another’s feet, and live in this community in this humble and vulnerable way. 

let us not seek to be relevant, but let us seek to embody god’s heart and love one another. this is what we are here to do. jesus gives us the example of humility, radical hospitality. he shocks his disciples with his gentle actions. this is what i hope we can do together. 

jesus said “i am your teacher and master-i have shown you who and what i am, and how i do it. now it’s your turn.”

it is our turn, friends. right here. to listen to the whisper of god in our community, to reach even further beyond our walls to the hearts of our neighbors. to those who have lived here all their lives, to those who moved in last week. across the street to the teachers, administrators and students and their parents in our schools and, perhaps hardest of all, to those who seem forgotten by everyone else. jesus calls us commune and be washed. to dine together here at this table, and at one another’s dining room tables. to draw one another in and always to make more space. 

i hope we can encourage one another to think, to pray, to learn and wonder. i hope we can doubt together. i hope you and i can rest together in the fullness of god’s love and tenderness. i hope that when you doubt, i can hold you in the safety of god’s love and when i doubt you can hold me too. i hope we will come to love one another as family—even if that means we will disagree sometimes—and walk and work together in god’s love. 

i hope to see you at my dining table soon. i am so excited to be here with you—and cannot wait to see what god has in store for us and for this community. 

thanks be to god. amen.

waiting [moving day: 1]

this morning i waited for the movers to arrive– julian-dog pacing amongst the boxes, then flopping dramatically to the floor, every bone connecting and sighing, each furry sigh deeper than the last. saddest of eyes. 

they were late–and i started to sigh, offering sad eyes back to julian, who then in her puppy-wisdom placed her head on my keen. it’ll be okay eyes. 

and now we wait together on the porch while our (okay, my) worldly possessions are loaded up, to sit and wait until tomorrow to be unloaded again in a new home where they will undoubtly wait varying numbers of days and weeks to be unpacked. 

where, i suppose, they are long term waiting to do it all over again.