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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Below is the Sermon I preached on Sunday February 11th at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kirkland, Wa.  This was the first time I’ve ever done this and it was an amazing experience.

My Sermon is based on the following Gospel reading from this mornings lectionary.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one[a]on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,[b] one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Mark 9:2-9 New Revised Standard Version

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There were two things that stood out to me as I read through this mornings gospel.  Firstly, the idea that Peter, James, and John were TERRIFIED by the transfiguration of Jesus and secondly the words from on high saying ‘This is my son, the beloved, LISTEN TO HIM!’

As I read through the scripture this week, did my subsequent research, and pondered it’s meaning there was one thought that kept coming back to me … the idea of stepping out of our comfort zones.

Peter would have been most content to stay there on that mountain top with Jesus and his friends.  To build dwellings for Christ, Moses, and Elijah and stay put.  He would have loved to not have to come down from the mountain and do the DIFFICULT work that was to come next.   As much as he was frightened in that moment I believe he was more afraid of what was to come.  It was more comfortable there, doing what they had been doing, all this time with Jesus.

Comfort zones are great!  We like them, I love them.  We know what to expect and how to behave but nothing changes, nothing grows, nothing gets better.  Instead it often gets stagnant and stale.

Obviously, I will be the first to admit that the comfort zone is nice, but I also realize that I would not be the person I am today if I wasn’t shoved out of it, usually kicking and screaming, more than once in my life.

When I went to Covenant Players, when I take on new challenges, and leadership roles in every environment of my life, every time I’ve had to get up in front of a group of people to speak  – It’s been uncomfortable, but it’s also been this amazing time of growth, stretching me, as a person, as well as my faith.  This need to stretch, and grow is not just for people individually but communities as well, one’s personal growth can also help grow the communities around them and vise-versa.

Thinking back to three years ago, when I decided to go back to teaching, I promptly messaged my old boss to come in a talk with her.  I had planned to go back to what I knew, what was comfortable no stretching, no growth, no discomfort required.  I think about what I would have missed out on had I not listened to God as he pointed me in another direction.  I would not be at the amazing school I am, with a staff that supports and challenges me and each other every day.  I would not have met a little boy who desperately needed someone in his life to love him unconditionally and guide him, or at least would not have been able to steer his family towards our school and the environment he desperately needed; an environment I needed.   It was challenging, it still is, and it was hard, and it was hugely uncomfortable, but it was what was needed and what I was told to do.

Here I come to the second part of the scripture that stands out ‘LISTEN TO HIM’.  ‘This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him’. I get that this is hard.  I am a 2 x 4 to the head kinda person when it comes to hearing, and following what Jesus is telling me to do.  The idea, the instructions, will come and I will have to watch as everything slowly falls apart on my way in the opposite direction before the 2 x 4 hits me smack across the head and I go ‘OH, that’s what I am supposed to do’ or ‘Ok, I’ll listen’.  Usually the latter, as like Jonah I am usually running away.  I’m working hard to listen before the 2 x 4 or giant fish moments.

As I contemplated all this I kept thinking about St. John’s and all the change we’ve been through over the past few years and all the change that is coming.  Over the past few months we’ve had staff changes, we’ve had program changes, and so many other changes all of this takes us out of the comfort zone.  We are being lead into the new and the unknown which can be amazing but terrifying.

I think that we are being pushed out of our comfort zones to grow, and change, and be something new as a community of faith.  As we stretch to meet the changing needs of the community around us we have to do things in a new way, which can be exciting but new is often uncomfortable.

We are heading into a huge time of change as we look for a new rector.  This is a time of uncertainty.  This is a time to ‘Listen to Him’ and to do all that we can to hear what God is telling us.

As we head into Lent, a time of change, I challenge us to keep this scripture in mind.  Lent is a time of heading from comfort into uncertainty for the disciples and for us. I would challenge us all to look to what we are being called to do.  To ‘Listen to Him’ and step out of our comfort zones, where we will be stretched, and we will find growth.

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A little over a month ago I asked the Priest-in-Charge at my church if I could talk to the congregation about the importance of children in our church and the need for people to work with them.  His response was that he wanted me to give a sermon…I figured he’d finally lost his mind.  Some weeks later I got an email from our associate priest about a Sermon class she was offering.  I signed up.  What follows is the sermon I wound up writing.  My goal was a sermon about the importance of children but what was impressed upon my heart as I wrote was the importance of God’s love for ALL humankind and how we adults need to see that love with the purity, innocence, and awe of childhood.


Christ children4

Mark 10:13-16

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Have you ever told a small child that God or Jesus loves them?  Have you watched their face as they take in these words?  Their reaction, is truly enchanting.  One might think that this would be true of telling them that anyone loves them but it’s not the same when they are told that their families love them or that their teachers, or friends love them.  There’s almost this sense of ‘well no duh’ from most of them at these revelations.  But when you tell them that GOD LOVES them the joy and amazement is almost palpable.

At the school where I teach we have chapel every Wednesday morning where we talk about our school’s virtues and about God and Jesus.   My co-teacher and I continue these themes throughout our days learning.  We read stories about God’s love, talk about our school virtues which are the fruits of the spirit, and sing songs like Jesus loves me.  At the end of our circle time we go around the room telling each child individually that Jesus LOVES them.  As well as their mommies and daddies, brothers and sisters, teachers and friends, that God loves EVERYONE.  The first few times we do this the look of amazement on their faces is touching.  That amazement turns to an effervescent Joy as the year progresses…but it is always there.   No matter how many times we tell them that Jesus or God LOVES them there is an expression and feeling of awe, wonder, amazement, and utter joy in their faces and countenance.

In the book of Mark, Mark writes of Jesus saying “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  I was thinking about this sense of Awe that the children seem to have when told that God and Jesus loves them as I read this scripture the other day.

The church seems to use this scripture a lot for advocating the presence of children in church.  Having them in the service, having education ministries for them, having faith based activities for them so that they can ‘come’ and so on.  Children are important!  Let me say that again CHILDREN ARE IMPORTANT!  Having ministries for them and ways for them to be present and part of the church is important.  Ways for them to learn about, and come to know and love God and Christ are vitally important to them and us as adults but I wonder if that was truly what Jesus was saying.

Again, I think of the innocence and the awe at which my students take the information that they are loved by God.  That they are LOVED by Jesus.  They don’t try and quantify it, they don’t try and negotiate it … they don’t say God will love me if I such and such happens … or if I do blah  … they just accept it with the innocence that comes with Childhood.  With the raw faith and acceptance that comes with being a child.  In the scripture Jesus says “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it”.

I remember in my youth having a conversation with someone who was convinced that this meant that you could only enter the kingdom if you came to God as a child, that you could only be a true Christian, you could only go to Heaven if you came to believe when you were a child. Taking the words exactly as written, word for word but not as I think they were intended.   I remember thinking that that made no sense whatsoever and certainly did not jive with the loving God that I had always been taught about.

Part of the joy of being adults is having greater an understanding of things but sometimes, that deeper understanding, that desire to know more, and question things makes it harder to just accept.  We need to take in the knowledge and love of God as a child would.  Not try and argue it, not try and quantify or qualify it, just accept it.  Feel it as a child would.  Know it and see the awe in it.  Accept that we are beloved by God no matter who we are, no matter where we are in our life or our walk with Him, and no matter our faults and flaws.

Jesus loves you.  Take that in… God loves you …don’t think about it feel the childlike joy of knowing that you are truly and utterly loved.

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I love this image but I find myself doubting it’s validity.

I’ve found myself struggling lately with God, with the idea that He has any power, at times with the idea that he is even there. I was raised believing in God and where I have had minor moments of doubt they’ve been short lived and more a rebellious teen thing than anything thing else. I wasn’t very good at it, the whole rebelling thing wasn’t me and rebelling against God and my ever important faith wasn’t in me, not truly. So that fact that this has become a struggle for me is terrifying…it’s almost worse than the situation causing he doubt.
You see my Father, my Dad, my Daddy…no my Papa is dying and there is nothing anyone can do about it, apparently not even God. But that’s not true, if God truly is all powerful as we are taught he could do something he just chooses not to. He chooses to allow him to suffer and slowly die. He chooses to watch those of us who love him suffer as we slowly watch him change, loose himself, and die.

I went to church this morning for the first time in just over a month, not that anyone noticed my absence but that’s a separate issue. I’ve been so angry at God for so long now that I didn’t want to be there. I realized in conversation with someone the other day that I am loosing my faith. I am loosing my belief that God cares about us…if he cares why would he allow this kind of suffering? I went to church in hopes of finding Him…finding understanding for why this is happening. As I sat in the back of the church listening to the liturgy I love and have always found comfort in…I felt alone. I couldn’t find Him. For the first time in my life I went to church and didn’t take communion. Partly cause I was taught not to if I was harboring anger towards anyone and I figure God counts here, and partially cause in that moment I didn’t see the point.

I’m torn, I’m angry at God! I am. So he must be there, you can’t be angry at something that isn’t there but maybe I’m wrong, maybe what I’ve always believed is a lie, maybe he isn’t there…or maybe he is and just doesn’t care.

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I have found that making decisions can be a really big pain, sometimes.  I was super excited a year ago when I started perusing my degree in Psychology at Liberty University.  When I first started looking at the school my Dad warned me that I might find their Theological and religious teaching challenging.  Liberty is a conservative Baptist University.  I figured this would mean we might disagree on things like homosexuality and women priests I never thought I would have issues where I was declared to, basically, not be a Christian in their eyes because I saw things a little differently.

I never thought I would have a classmate tell me I was not really a Christian because you cannot be raised one.  You have to have a huge change of heart to become a Christian.  My accepting Jesus at eight, with some confusion because I thought I already had (another story for another time…funny eight-year-old mind thing), was not good enough.  I was not old enough to make that choice… blah blah blah.  I never thought I would have someone tell be that God HATES ALL human beings or that Jesus did not come to earth to save us. (ummmm…yeah…ok!)  I never thought I would fail a test because I answered a question, regarding belief in God (only Christians believe in a big G God, not Jews, or anyone else… hehehehe), wrong.  I never thought I would read in a textbook about theology, how only Liberal Christians (like Catholics…hmmmm) wrongly believe in baptism of babies or not through full immersion, that those types of baptism are invalid.  That only crazy people believe in the real presence (big deal to me) at communion and so on and so forth.  I completely shut down last quarter as everything I read for my required Theology class attacked my beliefs, attacked my faith, and attacked my existence as a Christian.  I failed a class that should have been easy because it was so harsh and I was so frustrated.  I do not have issues with people having a different stand or belief than I do.  I have issues with the idea of attacking others.  I have issues with a class that is described as teaching the basic tenants of Christian faith but teaches only one view and attacks all others.  I have spent much of the last year wondering about where Love comes into all this crap.

I have just started taking two survey courses of the bible (old and new) and already find that where we are being taught various views on the Old Testament we are also being told that any view other than Liberty’s  is wrong and therefore ‘Evil’ (my interpretation).  I agree with some of what they are teaching, disagree with other aspects, and do not give a flying fig about others, but I am not dammed to hell because of any of it.  My last and final rant on this topic is the 30 minute altar call (for lack of a better word) at the end of one of the five one hour video lectures I had to watch last week.  If I am at a Christian University I am probably already a Christian, I am not paying nearly 1200 a class for this.  Nor am I paying to get a migraine from the stress.

So back to the beginning, decision can really be a pain in the…  J I have changed schools; changed degrees more times than I want to think about as I worked to figure out what I am doing with my life.  I am considering it again, I want to attend a Christian school, I love learning about different believes and views on things.  I even do not mind having my believes challenged but I do not like having to regurgitate, with no discussion, information that I do not believe in order to pass a course.  Yes, if I had not checked out mentally, I could have passed my theology course, but I also would have had to compromise everything I believe to do it.

Now what do I do?  Do I continue at Liberty?  Do I drop my Biblical Studies Minor, switch to straight Psych without Christian counseling, and get my degree from Liberty because I do not want to change schools?  Do I change schools?  If so do I hope to find another Christian online program?  Or do I go secular?  What to do?  Of course in all of this comes the question of why Liberty?  I felt God directing me there but why?  To teach discernment in choosing?  To challenge me in knowing what I believe and why?  Of course, there is always that niggling voice in the back of my head that says, or was it because everything I believe is wrong?  I have trouble believing that last reason.  What do you think?

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Today is one of those days where I just want to curl up and cry.  I am actually fairly stable but having had a cartwheel and somersault vertigo attack where I felt like I was flipping head over heels while lying down a few days ago I am experiencing a fear of my disease and future that I haven’t experienced for a while.

It has probably been five months since the room spun to the point where I could not move.  The scary part is the last really bad attack was when we were staying in the park in Elma, Washington.  Where are we staying now with no plans to leave you ask?  The park in Elma.  Hehehe!  Trigger illogical, irrational, and asinine moment of fear.

I strive everyday not to worry about my Meniere’s, not to worry about the next time that I will more than a little off balance, cause well I’m always a little off.  Insert bad joke from my friends and loved ones who would say I have been off for years…hahahaha.

The thing with today is that everything people say to me seems to make my disability, my issue with Meniere’s more prominent today.  Telling me I need to find a doctor, I need to find health coverage, I should look into SSDI coverage, I should look into Medicaid eligibility, ohh how much salt is in that.  I love how much the people in my life care and these are all good things, I’m just having a day where it just makes me want to curl up and cry instead of saying thank you for caring and I love you!

I fight daily to manage the stress of all the little things the come with Meniere’s.  Trying so hard to live my life but being terrified that whatever movement I make will trigger an attack, and since the room spinning of the other day I am terrified that it will not just be a little lite headed off balance moment but a drop me on my ass and hold on tight moment that feels like it will last for eternity.

Today is one of those days that I thank God that I am a Christian. J  One of those days when I have to remember the strength he gives me, the love he has for me and remember that I know there is a reason for all of this.  If I can remember and focus on this I still want to cry but there happy tears of Joy for I know that I am loved not only by my amazing family but by my loving and awesome God.

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