"This Is My Story..."

This week I have found myself humming the old hymn “Blessed Assurance” and singing its refrain:  “This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long. This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.”  If you are like me, you like a good story. If you are like me, you love telling stories. Turn your ear to a good story and you find it includes honesty, some confession about life’s embarrassing moments. It is revelatory as you come to know something more about the other person. A good story connects us through a shared memory or a shared laugh.

We are a collection of stories. But we are selective in the stories we share. We love to tell the stories of our travels or running into a Nashville celebrity on the street or seeing Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman while out walking in Percy Warner Park.  But we don’t tell all the stories in the table of contents of our lives. There are stories that are too painful to tell. To tell those types of stories requires trust. It requires the assurance that the other person will hold gently in her hands whatever you care to share. No one likes to admit that their shadows, but we all have them.

This month we asking “what’s your story?” during this season of generosity. We have been learning about stories of connection and stories of generosity. We’re telling these stories in our hope that EBPC is a place known for strong relationships and where we can support one another by becoming a scaffolding of laughter and joy in good times and care and support when people are going through hard times. Yes, we are a collection of stories and while we may not trust others with all the stories in the table of contents of our life, we gather in the name of the One who we can trust. The writer of Hebrews calls him a “great high priest” who pierces deeply and yet can sympathize with our weakness and calls us to his “throne of grace” in time of need. There we learn of a love stronger than hate. A life more powerful than death. A resurrection that sheds light into every shadowy tomb.

So, I ask you, what’s your story? Is it one of compassion? One of hardship? One of sadness? Whatever your story is…we hope you feel welcomed and accepted at EBPC because together we strive to form a family that loves and supports each other whatever you story may be.

What's your story? A post based on the reflections of the "Story of the Rich Young Man" mark 10:11-17

There are critical moments in life - in my life, in all of our lives - when huge questions are asked and huge decisions are made. Sometimes we are aware of the importance of the moment, but more often we are not.  These critical moments come, I believe, when we are struggling with life’s biggest and greatest questions:  where to go to college, whom to marry, what job to take, where to live, how to deal with a major personal problem we face, what to do with the rest of my life. These moments can happen at any age. And to any of us.

These moments can be difficult and they can be exciting. We wish more than anything else for clarity, not ambiguity. Those moments take us out of what we like to call our comfort zone because they are not often clear, they present us with new alternatives, new possibilities, and new challenges. They move us out of our comfort zone, those critical moments do, because they invite us to become, in some way, a new person. Change can be hard because nothing changes without conflict.

The young man in the passage is right in the middle of one of those important, challenging, uncomfortable, and promising moments. We have some big decisions at every turn. Certainly in our nation. But in our church. And in our lives. Big decisions are always difficult, rarely clear. In fact, maybe the bigger the decision, the less clarity. Some of you reading this post may be in the middle of  a BIG decision. Some may still be weighing the decision. Others of you this week committed to a decision, maybe led by the heart or by your mind, hoping the other would follow along.

 

I remember Peter Block, a mentor of mine, once saying: “we walk around waiting for someone to ask us the big question.” What qualifies as the BIG Question is one that makes the asker nervous in the asking.The young man in the familiar text this morning was asking the most important question in the world: “How do I inherit eternal life?”

 

I like how John Buchanan, in one of his sermons, translates the meaning of “eternal life” as the young man is asking: “what do I have to do to live fully, deeply, passionately, meaningfully, now, in this lifetime, and in a way that has the significance of eternity about it?” “Obey the law,” Jesus says. “I do,” the young man says. “Have obeyed all my life.” Then something very interesting happens. Jesus looks at him and loves him. Jesus loves this young man. Loves his integrity, his moral commitment, loves his question, I think, loves the fact that this man is asking a BIG question. The disciples are amazed. Amazed because Jesus has challenged one of their society’s fundamental assumptions: namely that money is a sign of God’s blessing. They are astonished because of the way he cuts through one of the most basic conceptual assumptions and invites people, all people—rich people, poor people—to think in new ways about their lives and what they are here for and what to do with their lives.

 And so Jesus might challenge us, might he not?

Like the young man, we have a lot of stuff. We love our stuff. We think about, spend our resources to buy more stuff, maintain our stuff, and our stuff. Our stuff can be a distraction. I am reminded of the story about the trusting abbot who was taken aback by the spiritual progress of a young disciple.  The abbot let the disciple live in his own lean-to down by the river.  Each night he would wash his one robe and put it out to dry.  One morning he was dismayed to find that the rats had torn his robe to shreds.  He begged for another from a nearby village, only to have the rats destroy that one as well.  The disciple got a cat, but he found he had to beg for milk for the cat.  To get around that, he got a cow; but of course that meant he had to have hay.  He got the hay from the fields around his hut.  He had to get workers to help.  Soon he was the wealthiest man in the region.  Several years later, the abbot comes back to find a mansion in place of a hut.  He asked the monk what was the meaning of all this?  "Oh Holy Abbot, there was no other way to keep my robes." 

Like him we walk away grieving because there is no way we can live without our stuff.  Our stuff is often at the center of the narrative of the story of our life.

There are the perils of materialism but I don’t think it is the main concern for Jesus. Instead, Jesus’ focus seems to be upon an invitation to a sincere and honest young man asking the BIG question, an invitation to let go of the strong hold, driven by anxiety and fear, that he had on his resources and to trust God for his salvation. What Jesus offered this young man was the opportunity to discover abundant and eternal life in the freedom of God’s love and the privilege of living for something more and better and bigger than personal security.

So “what’s your story?” And how does it connect to God’s story? That’s a hard question the story of your life is not told in a vacuum. Work can take precedence over worship and our social lives can be prioritized over spiritual disciplines. It is a hard question because words are the basis of our telling our story and we don’t have a confidence in the vocabulary of faith to discern and speak about where and how we see God showing up in our lives. So today I leave with you the question: What is the story of your life and how does it connect to the story of God?

“The Big Question” & Resources If You or Someone Is Undergoing an Experience of Darkness

We’ve been asking questions here at East Brentwood in a summer series “Questions + Courage = Faith” based on questions submitted and voted on. This Sunday we tackle what I call the Big Question”: “Why?” As in: “Does God will evil and suffering in the world and in our lives?” This question got a lot of votes, even though I think of religion these days refuses to acknowledge the reality of suffering. As William Willimon wrote in his book Thank God It’s Friday, church these days doesn’t “do too well in the dark.”

I have been perusing the texts of scripture and coming across the obvious texts related to the theme of tragedy and suffering, among them: the Book of Job; the story of the tragedy of the collapse of the tower of Siloam (Luke 13).  I also came across Psalm 29 and its line: “The voice of the Lord is over the water.” Last week I was at the happy occasion of a family wedding. While that happy family occasion was happening I heard news of the duckboat tragedy in Branson, MO where 17 people drowned in the lake after high winds capsized the boat. Nine of the perished were from one family. The words of the psalmist intersect with the pain of this story and present us with the big question: Why did God do this or allow it to happen.  Tia Coleman lost 7 family members -- all of her children.  Coleman said she’s never been through something this difficult. "I don't know if there's a recovery from it," she said. She said she’s been getting through the tragedy with a lot of prayers, and thanked the support of family members and friends. "Going home, I already know, is going to be completely difficult. I don’t know how I’m going to do it," Coleman said. "Since I’ve had a home, it’s always been filled with little feet and laughter, and my husband."

In the course of getting ready for this sermon, I have come across the stories and resources shared by remarkable people and communities of people who have faced great suffering and tragedy and have much to share.  I pass these on to you in the hope that they are helpful if you are facing suffering and tragedy or that you may be helpful to a friend undergoing an experience of darkness.

Fresh Air’s Terry Gross’ Interview with Duke Divinity School Professor Kate Bowler about her book Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved. It’s a memoir about Kate Bowler - a religion professor and young mother - having colon cancer that metastasized, and being told she had a little time to live but then finding an experimental immunotherapy treatment that seems to be helping. The interview, as is the book, is about how her illness has affected her religious practice, and how her religious practice has affected how she deals with her illness. This is a fantastic interview. (Click here for the manuscript.)

Here is a blog curated by a bereaved parent called Still Standing. I commend to you a list of Six Things One Should Never Say to a Bereaved Parent. If you have a friend who is facing the inconsolable loss of a child, this could be a great resource to help you be there in a supportive way. (Click here for the blog.)

·Among a resource I have come back to time and time again is Lament for a Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff (Eerdmans, 1987). A Yale philosopher writes poetically, honestly and authentically about the death of his 25-year-old son who died in a climbing accident. His diary entries speak “To the most agonized question I have ever asked I do not know the answer. I do not know why God would watch him fall.” (Click here for more information on the book.)

Faith dares to ask the big question. Faith is not afraid to ask, “Why is this happening? Where is God in this?” Faith sees in those questions themselves a deep trust. Faith understands and experiences God, God’s mercy and love and kindness, even in the experiences of God’s silence and absence.

I have book learning on this subject and I have had the privilege of carrying a flashlight beside families as they have walked through the darkness of pain and loss and suffering. Not having the unimaginable experience of having lost a child or faced incurable disease, I am grateful for all those who have struggled so honestly and faithfully with the biggest and most profound questions of all, especially this Big Question.

"Good" Friday

Click here to read the Good Friday Texts and the Crucifixion Story

I've shifted my focus from dealing with the joyful celebration of Easter (preparation details, sermon writing) to write this blog on this day we call “Good” Friday. I had gotten ahead of the story already hearing the brass and singing the great hymns, seeing the children running and laughing, families in front of the flowering cross. To go back into the darkness of this story on “Good” Friday is a little like spiritual whiplash.

I hope you will click on the link above and read the scripture passages for Good Friday and to read the crucifixion story. Here's a recap: the story of Jesus, it seemed, was over. Convicted of sedition, condemned to death by crucifixion, nailed to a cross on a hill called Golgotha, Jesus of Nazareth had endured all that he could—approaching the end he repeated a verse of the 22nd Psalm, a phrase familiar to first-century Jewish ears: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” There was a final wordless cry. And then silence. It appears that Jesus’ followers had no answer to his anguished question of why God would forsake him and that they clearly expected an altogether different outcome. If he was the promised Messiah, his followers expected him to seize real power, military and political power, and achieve some kind of victory. There is reason to believe that Judas, particularly, wanted him to lead a military revolt against Rome.  Jesus’ arrest and trial for sedition and his subsequent execution as a common criminal came as a crushing blow to his disciples, along with the fact that his own decisions and behavior seemed somehow to be part of the whole sad, tragic, disappointing fiasco. Jesus could have avoided it all but for some reason chose not to, seemed intentionally to put his safety at risk, his life on the line. And so they fled, left him to die alone, and went into hiding. The women alone among his followers stayed with him until the end and watched as he died and as he was buried and the tomb carefully sealed. And after the Sabbath, it was the women who came back to the place of burial, for practical, pragmatic reasons: to ensure that the body was properly anointed. Their major concern was whether they could manage to remove the stone with which the tomb was sealed.

The scriptural accounts are inconsistent (wonderfully so) about what happened next, about who was there, who arrived first, who said what to whom.  Click on the link above and it will take you the Gospel of John’s account. For Easter Sunday, I am focusing on Matthew’s account (Matthew 28) so I went back and looked at how Matthew describes the hours before the women go to the tomb on Easter Sunday.

What jumps out at me in Matthew is the delegation of old men, distinguished religious leaders, chief priests and Pharisees, who come to the governor’s office the day after the crucifixion. I know these people. They are good men basically, leaders in the community. They only want to preserve public order, the status quo. I have seen them at large church meetings. I have seen them at Chamber of Commerce meetings and in the halls of Congress. I have seen them on TV, pundits and lawmakers who criticize the teenage survivors of the high school mass shooting, for being too young and naïve with their marches and call for action on sensible gun laws. “We’re here, Excellency [Pontius Pilate],” they say, “because Jesus did say something about rising from the dead, and while you and we know how utterly preposterous that is, his friends could steal the body under the cover of darkness and claim he rose again and then we would have another problem on our hands. So please, Excellency, station some soldiers at the tomb just to make sure there is no funny business.” To them, Pilate says: “Use your own men” and “go, make the tomb as secure as you can.”

Years ago, when in my mid 20s I dog eared a copy of Frederick Buechner’s The Magnificent Defeat where he describes this scene as “old men trying to keep the sun from rising.” Now, years later, my fear is that I am not like one of those “old men” as I sit here finishing up an Easter sermon (what sometimes is referred to my “big shot” for the year to speak to a full house) what will be my Easter message that comes out of the oven that is placed before everyone at the Easter table. How easy is the tendency for me -- and you -- to act like the old men Matthew describes in trying to explain the resurrection story; the ones who try to make it safe and secure.  Safe and secure, saying things like the significance of the resurrection is that it really just points to the power of Jesus’ teachings that live on, or to the power of life we see every springtime (cue up the flowers and the butterflies).  None of that is very compelling.

Especially when we live in a Good Friday world. “Good” Friday is a sad day of loss and cruelty when all you have to go on is faith that light shines in the darkness and nothing, not death, not disease, not even the government, can overcome it. Nor old men.

Anne Lamott in her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith writes: “I don’t have the right personality for the human condition. But I believe in the resurrection, in Jesus’ resurrection and in ours.” She writes for all of us, “I hate it that you can’t prove the beliefs of my faith. If I were God, I’d have the answers at the end of the workbook, so you could check as you went along, to see if you’re on the right track. But noooo—Darkness is our context, Easter’s context; without it you couldn’t see the light. Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak [stuff] anyone can throw at us” (p. 274).

I need to get back to putting a wrap on the sermon for Easter. I will leave you with a quote by Jürgen Moltmann  on this Good Friday and conclude by saying, I hope to see you as we celebrate the resurrection on Sunday!

“Good Friday is the center of the world, but Easter morning is the Sunrise of the Coming of God and the morning of new life and it is the beginning of the future of the world.’” Jürgen Moltmann  (Passion for God)

Thursday of Holy Week - On Seeing Something (Love) Through

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. - John 13:1

In church parlance we call tonight Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum,” meaning mandate or command. As Jesus gathers with his friends around the table for his Last Supper, he instructs them how to live, giving them the New Commandment:  Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

That we should love one another…yes. But Jesus, in his words to his friends around the table seminar on their last night together has the long view in mind: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  That we should make loving another to the end our aim, now that is hard work.  Once I start reading a book I have trouble reading a book to its end, from cover to cover. And reading a book can be far easier than loving a human being!

I found it a bit coincidental this Thursday morning when I opened a journal I have been trying to read daily and the advice is on finishing what you start when it comes to reading a book.

I have been reading Joan Chittester’s book The Rule of Saint Benedict, a daily journal of reflections on the writings of St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine Order. Benedict of Nursa was born in 480 A.D. and lived when the foundations of the Roman Empire were shaking. (I suspect many of you are saying: “Must be a gripping read.”) The Rule of St. Benedict is simple and yet complex and while written long ago is fresh for our 21st century lives who are searching, often in vain, for some spiritual framework around which to organize our lives in a period when public devotion is a thing of the past and the overarching questions of life are more pressing than ever. After a lofty sentence like that it would seem odd that when I opened the journal for today, March 29th that St. Benedict is focused on what appears at first blush to be focusing on minutia. With what seems like mundane instructions, Benedict offers advice that during Lent, the monks are to be assigned a book to read “straight through” and were given more time during the day to read. That is to put themselves on a regimen and study in a serious and ordered way.  Benedictines were known for the labor of their hands; they did not shy away from work. At the same time, work is not what defined their life. The search for God and love for their fellow human being is what defined Benedictine spirituality. (That is something to take stock of when we are identified more by what we do than that we are.) Study is hard work. Just as with them, we find it is so much easier to find something else to do in its place than to stay at the grind of learning. We have excuses aplenty for avoiding the dull, hard, daily attempt to learn. Of Benedictine spirituality Chittester writes: “life is to be struggled through and worked at and concentrated on and cultivated. It is not a matter of simply going through it and hoping enough of the rust of time is removed by accident to make us burnished spiritual adults” (p. 216)

Same advice when it comes to reading a book could be said when it comes to loving another human being. Loving another is not a feeling. It is a choice; it is a behavior. It involves hard work. It takes the long view. It was for Jesus. And it is for us in our attempts to love others. Today, on this Maundy Thursday, I am thankful that Jesus did the hard work of love. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. - John 13:1

Looking Around

It’s a strange and anticlimactic ending to what is known as the triumphal entry. Maybe, however, it’s necessary. If that’s what Jesus does maybe we should too. Maybe we need to look around at everything before we go any further into this week.

“Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” - Mark 11:11  (From the Reading Mark 11:1-11)

I am still thinking about the Scripture passage from our Palm Sunday service that opens the door into this Holy Week. There is so much that can be said about this week and how it started on Sunday with Palm Sunday. It’s hard to know where to begin and how to make sense of it all. But here’s what I wonder. The Holy Week story is not a story to be explained or understood. It is a story to be embodied and lived. It is a week to slow down, re-group, and take a look around at everything.

Isn’t that what Jesus does?

No other gospel account describes this. Only Mark offers us the opportunity to look around at everything. In Matthew’s account of the gospel Jesus immediately enters and cleanses the temple, driving out those who bought and sold, and overturning the moneychangers’ tables. According to Luke Jesus sees the city Jerusalem and weeps over it. Then he enters the temple and drives out the den of thieves, those who bought and sold. And in John’s account it’s not clear if Jesus even enters the temple. Instead, the focus is on Jesus teaching about the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies. Not so for Mark.

At the end of the donkey ride, when the shouting is over and the last cloaks and palms have been thrown down, Jesus enters the temple, looks around at everything, and then leaves.

It’s a strange and anticlimactic ending to what is known as the triumphal entry. Maybe, however, it’s necessary. If that’s what Jesus does maybe we should too. Maybe we need to look around at everything before we go any further into this week.

Jerusalem was the center of Jewish life. It was the center of the religious, social, political, and economic structure. The temple stands at the center of the center. It is the heart of Jewish life. That means that when Jesus entered the temple and “looked around at everything” he was looking into the very heart of the people.

There are moments in each of our lives - big moments, threshold moments, life changing moments - when we need to slow down, maybe even stop, and consider what it is that we’re getting into. Are we ready for this? What does it mean? We look around.

I have seen this looking around in the eyes of others.  I have seen that look a few times at the wedding rehearsal, a dry run to find out where the x is marked on the floor of where to stand and to get our cues before everybody rushes off to dinner. But just before they go, I have seen that look sometimes by the bride, sometimes by the groom as they look over their shoulder at the empty room that will be filled tomorrow with friends and family. Their momentary reflective look is as if they are looking for confirmation that they are making the right step into their future. Maybe you know of the looking around, the one that happens during the final walk through of the house has the pencil marks on the closet door marking the growth of your children, long since grown. You look around one final time with the sweep that not only takes in the square footage but the years before you close the door and continue with the process of downsizing and paring down your life. Newspaper reports reported that reflective look when Emma Gonzalez, a student at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida came to the podium yesterday at the March for Our Lives in D.C. She spoke for just under two minutes describing the effects of gun violence in emotional detail and then recited the names of those who had been killed. Then she stood and said nothing for 4 minutes and 26 seconds, looking around at the crowd through watery eyes.  She knew what this moment meant and what is being asked of her and what is being asked of us.

Holy Week is about real life stuff and it hits close to home.

Are we ready for this? What does it mean? Do I have what it takes? Is this really what I want? Am I prepared for what is to come? Can I see it through to the end?

I don’t think Jesus just looked around at everything, turned away, and then left. I think he looked at everything so that he might take it with him and carry it through this holy week. So must we.

What are the things done and left undone, that chain you to the past? (It has been said that you can’t claim a future that is stuck in the past?) What are your regrets? What scares you? Is your heart filled with loss, sorrow, grief? Where is your life overcome by darkness? Take a look around at everything in your heart. What do you give yourself to? What are you going to bear witness to and stop standing by on the sidelines as an observer of your life?

Jesus left nothing behind. We mustn’t either. What we refuse to look at and bring to this week cannot be healed, cannot be restored, renewed, re-created, or resurrected. So what will you carry into this week? What will you bring and offer? 

Cosmic collisions let us examine our hearts

"Ash Wednesday meets Valentine’s Day February 14"

Columnist Ray Waddle, a former Tennessean religion editor recently wrote in the Tennessean in its February 7th issue:  “to those who savor cosmic collisions on the calendar, check February 14. Besides Valentine’s Day, it is also Ash Wednesday. The annual celebration of romantic love shares a date this year with the first day of Lent.  Candlelight dinner meets liturgies of repentance. Champagne festivity goes face to face with the Book of Ecclesiastes.” (Click here to read his article.)

About this cosmic collision, Waddle uncovers for us a surprising statistic: this embraced (or dreaded) holiday is a commercial colossus now with $18 billion a year spent which breaks down into gift spending averaging nearly $140 a person in cards, jewelry, roses, and champagne.

Ash Wednesday, meanwhile moves in the other direction, acknowledging what Waddle refers to as “the broken heart of the world” -- life’s mistakes and wrong pursuits and the inescapable facts of our mortality.  On Wednesday, I will make the sign of the cross on foreheads as these words are said “you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  Tough words on a day that acknowledges life’s mistakes and wrong pursuits and the inescapable facts of our mortality.

Yet these desolations don’t get the last word.

Tomorrow, when Valentine’s Day collides with Ash Wednesday I am tempted, when I say “remember that you are dust” to draw a heart instead of the cross to hold in creative tension the desolation (our own limits) and the hope of God’s promises that is at the heart of this strangely life renewing glow of Lent.  A heart - or a cross - reminds us of the promises of God that we are God’s, that there is no sin, and no darkness, and yes no grave that God will not come to find us in and love us back to life. These promises outlast our earthly bodies and the limits of time. For we come from God and to God we shall go.

There is so much that gets in the way of that simple truth and it is at times like on Ash Wednesday -  when all of the other things that occupy our attention doesn’t matter as much. 

So on this day of cosmic collision, I hope you will stop by when we will be outside in our parking lot from 7:30 am - 9:30 am for the imposition of ashes and for a time of personal prayer for those who desire prayer.

Boy Scouts, Leadership and Values

With school starting up again soon, that means Boy Scout Troop 86 will begin meeting under our roof again soon. We couldn't be happier to have this group of hard-working, dedicated, kind, young men meet under our roof. We are proud of the troop's leadership and of the values they are instilling in these young men that are free from such bullying and divisiveness. We are proud that they promote the values that we believe in and support, and that they recognize that words matter, that values matter - even when those in leadership positions do not. Here is a snippet from my sermon this past Sunday in which I addressed this very point:
 
God’s kingdom on earth comes, Jesus said, when seeds are dropped onto the ground. It’s a pretty fragile dream, not unlike a tiny single seed, and it must contend among ground where there are seeds of hatred and bigotry and violence, seeds of discord which also take root and grow and bear a terrible poisonous fruit.
 
Like many of you I was so disheartened by the partisanship and seeds of discord  when our President delivered a totally inappropriate speech to a captive audience of young men who are at the National Scout Jamboree, a pinnacle event for scouting.  As my name is on the Charter for Troop 86, I reached out to local leadership to express my concerns about if there would be a response from the Scouting organization in response to the bullying, partisanship and political pressures expressed in the President’s speech. From the conversations I have had with local leadership, I have every confidence that our Scouts here are growing here in values free from such bullying and divisiveness. And I am proud of their work and our association with Troop 86.
 
Why I bring up the President’s Speech before the Scouting Jamboree - a speech which the Head of BSA has apologized for the nature of the speech’s content is this: our words, especially around our youth, are like seeds planted. Our values are like seeds planted. Words matter. Values matter. When those in leadership - whatever their leadership position may be - parents need to talk to their children that it matters what we say and what we stand for. Not only parents, but parents, grandparents, young, old, teachers, coaches, all people who seek to follow in the way of Jesus, hear this: our words matter. Our Values matter. It matters what we are saying to our young people and what we are modeling.
 
To listen to the audio or read the entire text of Sunday's sermon, please click here: http://www.eastbrentwoodpc.com/worship-service-materials

We Are God's Family - The Season of Advent

It is the season of Advent with Christmas only a little more than two weeks from now. It is a time of great expectations. In this frenzied season, I have been thinking about expectations, about family (our theme has been “We Are God’s Family”) and I have been thinking about our attentiveness (or lack of).

These thoughts have been sparked by reading a story the writer Anne Lamott tells in her book about what the Kingdom of God that the birth of Jesus ushers in looks like to her.  In the book Stitches Lamott describes a friend whose son was living on the streets. Lamott writes, “This friend’s grown son, David, more or less lived on the streets for thirty years. He had a small place he could call his own, but he chose to live outdoors. I’d known him since he was a child. He looked like Puck, and he still had an innocence in his face, even surrounded by matted hair. I drove him to his grandmother’s funeral in Oakland a few years ago, with his grocery bags of broken electronics, and he bragged about how well he could dine from dumpsters. He was strong from walking all day. He was sweet, smart, aggravating, courtly, alcoholic and mentally ill.”

Lamott says, Over the years, his mother welcomed him home once a week or so, when he had not been drinking, for coffee, or soup, or whatever happened to be on the stove. People would ask David’s mother how he was doing. “Oh about the same,” she would say, or “Nightmarishly. And yourself?” Sometimes love does not look like what you had in mind. 

Then one day, David had a seizure and was found half dead. He was taken to the ICU and after a long recovery was moved to the general population in the hospital. That was when his mother lost hope. What would become of him next? She despaired. But eventually David learned how to walk again and speak a little gibberish. But what happened among the people in the community who knew David was a bit like the Kingdom of God. They visited him and surrounded his mother with support. Rides, errands, good ideas, just being there and taking an interest. Somehow their love touched David’s mother so profoundly that she came to see her son through the eyes of the people who loved her and loved him. It changed everything.

Eventually he was placed in a long term facility where people with Alzheimer’s and similar dementia twice David’s age were living. Every two weeks, Lamott writes, David’s mother drives to see her son at his facility in San Francisco. They go for short walks, and they talk about whatever comes up. Sometimes he makes very little sense. It’s a beautiful drive to the facility. Flickering screens of color rush by, dappled patches of road, then such brightness that even dark glasses can’t help.  And it’s hard to tell who has been more saved from what, David or David’s mother and the community of love that has transformed them both.

In the Bible passages which are our focus this Sunday, John the Baptist sent word to Jesus from his prison cell, “Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?” And Jesus said, Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

As I move closer to this Sunday and to Christmas, I am being made aware of these important things:

  • What you are looking for often determines what you see
  • We have the opportunity to be the family of God. 
  • The kingdom comes, when it comes, in places that we least expect and in ways that are not what we had imagined.
  •  Love, after all, doesn’t always look like what you had in mind.

I hope in this season of Advent you are discovering richness as well. And I hope to see you this Sunday for worship and our children’s advent workshop that follows the service.

A Help Guide for You this Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving…

 …will you be the one who will be gracious and promise kindness. 

Here at East Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN, we have cooked up a little Thanksgiving podcast and blog to be a resource to you as you face the upcoming holiday. Listen to John -the pastor of wise and many words - and Nate - the man of few words but master when it comes to the musical note - as they bring you music to enjoy and some advice to how to approach Thanksgiving whether your Thanksgiving will be a quiet one or a crazy, busy time of preparation. There is even advice on what to do about crazy Uncle Jack who may be sitting around your Thanksgiving table!

As with years past, we have assembled an assortment of table blessings that you might find useful as well as a wonderful poem by John O’Donahue called For Love in a Time of Conflict that we think is especially appropriate at this time. In this season of gratitude and on Thanksgiving Day, it is our prayer that your eyes will be open to the bounty of gifts, unmerited, that are all around us.  We pray that this week will bring peace to our world, our country, and our homes. At Thanksgiving and throughout the upcoming season, “may everything good from God be yours!” (1 Peter 1:2, the Message).

 

For Love In a Time of Conflict

When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.

When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.

When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.

Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to spring.

By John O’Donohue from To Bless the Space Between Us(New York: Doubleday, 2008)

 

If the only prayer you ever say in your life is thank you it will be enough.

-- Meister Eckhart

 

 

Come, Lord Jesus our guest to be

and bless

 

these gifts

bestowed by Thee.

 

And bless our loved

    ones everywhere

and keep them in Your

loving care. - Moravian Blessing

 

A Thanksgiving Psalm (Psalm 100)

On your feet now—applaud God!
    Bring a gift of laughter,
    sing yourselves into his presence.

 Know this: God is God, and God, God.
    He made us; we didn’t make him.
    We’re his people, his well-tended sheep.

 Enter with the password: “Thank you!”
    Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
    Thank him. Worship him.

For God is sheer beauty,
    all-generous in love,
    loyal always and ever.

-          Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible

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If you are looking for a ritual to consider, here is one we did at our thanksgiving table when our children were young:

Take a loaf of bread and pass it around the table.  Invite the children and adults at the table to tear off a piece and list one thing they are thankful for (e.g. good health, the love of one another, pets, those people who are away from their families on this day doing the hard work to make sure we are safe, etc.) The host may want to have think about what it may be before the bread is passed so you can move through this ritual quickly before the food gets cold.  With wine or drink add a toast and a prayer and Voila!

 

Here is another prayer:

Thank You, thank You, thank You, generous God!  You have injected life with joy, thus we know laughter.  You have dabbed creation with color, thus we enjoy beauty. You have whistled a divine tune into the rhythm of life, thus we hear music.  You have filled our minds with questions, thus we appreciate mystery.  You have entered our hearts with compassion, thus we experience faith.  Thank You, God, Thank You.  Thank You!

                                 -C. Welton Gaddy