May 29, 2016

Blessed to Choose

Last week, we started this Pentecost season series, which is looking at how we are Blessed by God. We thought about the idea that we are Blessed to BE and simply to live as the Beloved Child created by God.
It can be too easy (for me-and maybe you) to get distracted from that simplicity of connection. I am much more a ‘Martha’ by nature than a ‘Mary’. I like to get things accomplished. Because of that characteristic, I sometimes take on more tasks than necessary, because I am afraid to say ‘no’. It can be a blessing to learn to say No to things that we aren’t meant to do. We can learn to 'choose the better part'.
You remember the story of Martha and Mary from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus visits the home of some friends. Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’  (Luke 10:38-42)
Martha tends to get the raw end of the deal in many sermons and meditations when she is characterized as rejecting the idea of simply sitting at Jesus’ feet like her sister. Perhaps there is a more favorable interpretation for her actions. You’ll notice that Luke says it Martha ‘welcomed [Jesus and his disciples] into HER home’. Don’t we all have the pride of home that makes us want to make everything perfect for a guest?
The problem came up when she became ‘distracted by her many tasks’ and consequently angry at her sister. She comes whining to Jesus, demanding that he ‘tell her to help me’. In his reply, Jesus hints that it is perfectly alright to have things less than perfect, in order to enjoy the ‘better part’.
Jesus isn’t scolding Martha for wanting to have a nice meal, and a clean house, and a fresh blanket on the bed.  He is noting that being ‘worried and distracted by many things’ keeps her from remembering that she is a Blessed daughter of God. Knowing you are beloved of God is the ‘better part’, which in the story her sister understood. It is alright to say ‘no’ to the extra salad, washing the blanket again, and scrubbing the back corners of the kitchen so that they are spotless, so that we can be present to what God really wants-our relationship.
It can be easy to let the tasks of family, job, volunteer obligations, and keeping up with everything distract us from taking time to remember how Blessed we are. There are many, many wonderful things to do. However, I need to remind myself, that I personally don’t have to do every one of them. It is OK to choose to say NO to some things in order to leave time for remembering that you are Blessed and Beloved.  
How do I say ‘no’ without appearing rude or selfish, you might ask? A wise counselor suggested once that you simply say the word ‘no’ without any explanation as to why you cannot, or do not want to do whatever it is. An added benefit of saying ‘no’ to some things is that you give others the opportunity to take on tasks that they might enjoy and do well.
God has the right person in mind for each ministry that comes up. It might be you-or it might be someone else. Weigh each request in the light of questions like ‘does this use my God-given gifts?’; ‘do I really feel called to do this?’; ‘could someone else do it better?’; ‘would my connection with God be enhanced or diminished by this task?’; ‘would this opportunity to minister help me live and witness to being the Beloved of God?’.

What are some things in your life that are keeping you distracted and worried? What can you say ‘no’ to and let go of in order to find a closer connection with God and with your identity as a Blessed child of God?

May 22, 2016

Blessed: to Be

Since Easter, this blog has looked at ways we can be refreshed. The telling and hearing of the Story of God’s work is one way. Having fun, laughing and singing are others. When we tell one another what good things God has done we are also refreshed. As noted in the last post, we are now entering the Season of Pentecost or ‘Ordinary Time’ when there aren’t major feasts to celebrate. We are simply called to do God’s work.
This week starts a series on ways we are Blessed to do that work.
First we are Blessed to BE. 
Miriam McKenney in 50 Days of Fabulous said, “So as I continue to live into the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus, remaining mindful of the gift of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, I consider God’s message about seeing as mortals see; seeing from the outside instead of looking inside into people’s hearts. We must believe that we can do this. If we are children of God, and God lives in us, then we can see into each other’s heart. Even if it’s just a glimmer. Jesus preached, taught, and lived a life of love. [and] taught us that God has something in store for each of us that we may not understand or comprehend in ourselves, or in each other.
McKenney notes that each of us is blessed to be who we are, and each of us is blessed to bring out the best in one another. We are Blessed to Be the ones who witness to God’s love in our lives. As St. Francis is said to have urged, “Preach the Gospel, if necessary use words.” It is in the way we live who we are meant to BE that we witness.
As we live the life we are formed for we are promised that “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17) Isn’t it wonderful that God rejoices over us. No matter what happens, or what we do (or don’t do), God loves us and in fact, praises our life and work!
Sometimes we think it is only by Doing something big and important that we can Earn God’s favor and make a difference. That is not true. It is a lie produced by our world, which we too often believe. The only way we can really live as we were meant to be is to Be Held [by God]. In the Casting Crowns song Just be Held we are reminded that God is present in every moment and that we don’t have to ‘hold it all together’. Instead we can ‘just be held’. 
Jesus points to the birds and flowers saying “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? …See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin...” (Matthew 6:26-28)
Think about some ways you can BE-yourself and in Be-ing you: Be-come a witness to others:
Be Present
Be You
Be Strong
Be Filled
Be Changed
Be Open
Be Whole
Be New
Be Holy
Be Broken

You can probably think of other ways to BE as you live your life in Christ and as witness to the power of God. Remember you can BE-Loved and you are Beloved!
God says “I AM who I AM”. God tells us to Just BE who I created because that is enough.

For the next several weeks, we'll continue to look at ways we are Blessed! 

May 15, 2016

May 15-Pentecost

Today is Pentecost. It has been 50 days since Easter. (time sure does fly, as they say) Pentecost originally was a feast outlined in Leviticus as the offering of new grain (Leviticus 23:15-21). That is why the Book of Acts notes that there were so many in Jerusalem, “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians…” (Acts 2:9-11) Everyone was present for the festival.
For Christians, Pentecost is when we remember the giving of the Holy Spirit on the faithful followers of Jesus. They were in the upper room hiding out, fear-filled and unsure of themselves. In the course of 50 days, not even 2 months, they had seen Jesus die, Jesus resurrected, and Jesus ascend to heaven. They probably didn’t know what to expect next.
What came next was flame and wind. The Holy Spirit emboldened them to go out and tell everyone what had happened. They had to proclaim what Jesus had done. We may never have had tongues of fire descend on us, or a loud rushing wind impel us to preach. However, we are descendants of those men and women. We are called to proclaim the Good News of Christ to a world desperate for some good news.
Over the past 5 weeks, readers here have had the chance to look at ways to be refreshed in soul for the work of God. The season of Pentecost, which lasts from now until Advent, is when we live and do the work of God in the world. This season is sometimes called “ordinary time”. In one sense it is ordinary because we are going about our regular routines without the benefit of big feast days to inspire us. On the other hand, the season of Pentecost is anything but ordinary because we are doing God’s work. When we become aware that our day-to-day living is part of the work of God, we become extra-ordinary women and men.
Peter, and those in the upper room, were transformed by the experience of the Holy Spirit. They boldly spoke out about Jesus while living their daily lives. In Acts we are told, “Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking break in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” (Acts 2:46-47) Yes, they did signs and wonders, but more importantly, they lived among their neighbors just like they had always done. It was the witness of their changed lives and their pointing to Christ that impressed and converted people. When Peter and John were confronted by the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, they told him, “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
(I offer you this coloring page as an aid to meditating on the ordinary, yet extra-ordinary response of Peter and John. Print it out and sit with the picture and some pencils, markers, crayons. As you color, think about the lives of the first century men and women. How can you be like them in telling about Jesus in your life?)

The men and women of first century Jerusalem were not really that different from you and me. They were living their lives, conscious of the action of God in Christ and through the Holy Spirit. They could do nothing except share the Good News. 
Over the next few weeks, the meditations here will look at ways we are Blessed to do that work as well. Come along and live the (extra)ordinary time of sharing in the witness of God. 

May 8, 2016

Refreshed by Song (Happy Mother's Day)

‘Music makes the world go ‘round’ says the song. David advised us to ‘make a joyful noise to the Lord’. (Psalm 95, 98, 100) Singing or other music is a wonderful way to refresh our souls.
Even if we aren’t musically talented, we can (and do) sing along in the car or in the shower. We may never get up on stage at the Metropolitan Opera or play a solo at Carnegie Hall. Maybe we’ve been told we ‘can’t carry a tune in a bucket’. It doesn’t matter, we can still enjoy and participate in music!
Music itself is in our core being. From the very earliest times, humans have produced music. Drumming on logs, making musical pipes from reeds, chanting in worship ceremonies are all musical ways to express ourselves.
Like laughter (which we looked at last time), music has health benefits like reducing stress and anxiety, it boosts heart and brain function, reduces pain and aids in recovery from surgery! You don’t even have to be actively involved in producing the music. It has been determined that babies in the womb can hear and respond to music-and they certainly aren’t singing opera yet. Listening to music from simple ditties to grand opera and symphonies is good for us.
There are many Biblical citations that remind us to make music as we worship, and even as we live each day.
Ephesians 5:18-20 “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father…”
Psalm 147:7: “Sing to ADONAI with thanks, sing praises on the lyre to our God.”
Colossians 3:16: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
Psalm 98:4-6: “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises. Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, With the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn Shout joyfully before the King, the LORD”

What kind of music do you like best? Listen to it, sing or hum along, I personally prefer songs from musicals, older country-Western songs, and contemporary Christian music-any song that tells a story. I will listen to nearly any kind of music, though, because even in the most unusual places you can get an inspiring message. For instance, Katy Perry’s song Firework, includes the encouraging message that each of us will find the “[door} you could open…that leads you to the perfect road. Like a lightning bolt, your heart will glow and when it's time you'll know…’Cause, baby, you're a firework. Come on, show 'em what you're worth.”
If you have been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know I refer to music, sometimes bits of a song, sometimes a whole download, to make a point. I’m not the only one. A friend, who also writes a weekly message for the Women of the Diocese, recently used an old Carly Simon song, “Let the River Run”, to illustrate her final meditation in a Revelation series.
God is telling us all the time, too. “Let your light shine…” Remember the little song that most of us have sung: This Little Light of Mine. Music helps us shine! Listen and make music!!

And…happy Mother’s Day to those who are mothers. Mothers come in all shapes, sizes, and descriptions. They don’t have to have given birth to be a mother to someone else. Some of the most ‘mothering’ people I know have never given birth. So celebrate the moms in your life-all of them...maybe with this cute song!

May 1, 2016

Refreshed by Laughter

As we look at ways to refresh ourselves from the busy-ness of life, consider one of the easiest and best ways to restore our equilibrium. Laughter! Laughter has been shown to have positive health benefits like relaxing tension, boosting the immune system, protecting the heart, and can even relieve pain. It can ease anxiety and smooth over tension, along with improving mood and strengthening relationships.
Dr. ‘Patch’ Adams is one physician who believes that laughter is important in the healing process. His work was highlighted in the 1998 Robin Williams film Patch Adams. Dr. Adams founded the Gesundheit Institute in 1971 as a holistic approach to medicine, including humor.
Proverbs 15: 15 and 17:22 tell us that “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine. He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.” 
I was first introduced to the idea of a joyful, even laughing Jesus, many years ago on a Cursillo weekend, when I was given a postcard with this image on it. At first I was taken aback, but then I realized that anyone as full of the Spirit as Jesus would have been joyful. The “joy of the Lord is our strength” we are told in Nehemiah 8:10, and encouraged to “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4).You can now get the image from Jesus Laughing.

Did you know that May 1 is World Laughter Day according to the Laughter Yoga organization? Did you know that there is such a thing as Laughter Yoga? Check it out
Since laughter is so good for us, and since we are encouraged to engage in it regularly…why not laugh more today than yesterday? There are collections of jokes and funny stories online if you need a bit of a laughter break in the middle of the day… One is God’s Little Acre and another is Christian Suite.

For instance: “A three-year-old boy went with his dad to see a litter of kittens. On returning home, he breathlessly informed his mother, "There were two boy kittens and two girl kittens." "How did you know?" his mother asked. "Daddy picked them up and looked underneath," he replied. "I think it's printed on the bottom." 
And this one reminds me of my granddaughter who insists on putting her shoes on the wrong feet—luckily she hasn’t thought of this comeback yet: “A three-year-old put his shoes on by himself. His mother noticed the left was on the right foot. She said, "Son, your shoes are on the wrong feet." He looked up at her with a raised brow and said, ‘Don't kid me, Mom. I KNOW they're my feet.’” 
Some just make you smile and think, 'from the mouths of babes': “When a mother saw a thunderstorm forming in mid-afternoon, she worried about her seven-year-old daughter who would be walking the three blocks from school to home. Deciding to meet her, the mother saw her daughter walking nonchalantly along, stopping to smile whenever lightning flashed. Seeing her mother, the little girl ran to her, explaining happily, "All the way home, God's been taking my picture!" (all from God’s Little Acre)

So, as I Thessalonians 5:16 says, " Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances..." Laugh and be refreshed!