Oops!

I just posted a blog I wrote early Monday morning–and today is Wednesday.  I could have sworn that I had hit “publish”, but maybe I didn’t.  Oh well.  Sorry for the confusion just in case you have already seen it.

These late summer mornings are a great time to sit down and reflect, so here I am in the swing again, the sun trying to shine above the thin, spotting clouds.  Ralph, our bassador, seems to be hunting under our shed.  He goes out there, and barks.  The only clue I have is that it looks like something may be under it.  He is 11 years old and has arthritic pain in his hips and spine, so being active like this is good for him.

This Wednesday morning, though, my mind is numb.  The rain that was suppose to leave almost 2 inches, left just under a half inch and the plants in the woodland flowerbed have not even lifted their foliage up.  The wild ginger is the most obvious with its circular leaves lying flat on the ground.  So, this morning, I give in to watering.  It takes 30 minutes in 4-5 different spaces to complete the job and it is easy for me to get distracted, so I set a timer.

Setting a timer seems a little anal, but when I start one project, I have a tendency to get so engrossed that I forget everything else.  Today I need to order my days so I can get things done without overlooking something or putting it off–again.

Having a dyslexic and ADD brain can be frustrating, but days are never boring.  I certainly do not think linear (from point A to point B to Point C, etc.) and have a problem moving from one task to another.  My brain works more like a maze:  point A may be where I start, but it might be in walking to complete point A, I stumble into point Z which becomes the priority–at least until I shift and stumble into point

So here I sit in the swing, still sleepy from a less than 7-hour sleep, and the timer about to go off for the first sprinkler move, the dryer buzzer, too.  And what have I accomplished?  Only a bit of social network cleaning.  Guess I had better close for now.  Hope each of you have a delightful, productive, even restful day.

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Perseid Meteor Shower, Satellites and God

This morning, and it is only 5:30 yet, I am outside on the deck watching the sky—well sort of.  Actually it began at 2:30 am when I had to accompany Possum, my dog, outside.

I knew that Perseid’s Meteor Shower was in its best viewing, but our schedule means early bedtime.  We just cannot stay up to watch.  But in that early run outside, which is usually about 2-3 minutes, I saw the meteor, then the second one.

That woke me up, so in we came, turn off the lights, and out to the deck I came with a blanket.  Within another 15 minutes, two more meteors making four in 45 minutes.

Watching the skies after the sun goes down is one of my favorite experiences.  There is so much to see, to hear, and to think about at those times.

Our viewing time seems to get shorter and shorter, but we watch.  We count the planes that we spot and guess from where they might be coming and going.

We study the stars for movement spotting the satellites that keep circling our earth. Some seem to move so slowly while others zip past us.  Some have a strong light that remains strong as it passes over while others seem to brighten or dim as they move across the sky.

And always we hope, watch, seek to see meteors—falling stars.  So seldom do we get to see the meteors, so when we do it is a thrill.  If one of us sees it and the other doesn’t, there is a bit of jealousy and the competitive nature seems to stir up as we wait and wait to see another.

I do not understand how anybody can deny the existence of God when sitting outside in the dark watching the sky.  That sky is heavenly.  God must exist.

The enormity of the world in which we live is so evident when sitting in the dark. My existence is such a tiny speck in the universe that is even vaster than our solar system.  God’s kingdom must extend beyond my human world.

Here I sit, on the deck with the night giving way to the morning.  I have a computer on my lap, a hot drink to my side, the birds waking up, a car pulling out of its drive, and the TV quietly telling the world the latest news.  And I know God is real.

How petty it is of any one of us humans to think we can exist independent of any other human.  To think that we can isolate ourselves from the universe in any fashion is absurd.

God’s world is so much more than this planet on which we live.

God’s world reaches far beyond even our solar system.  Just watch the night skies and consider the possibilities.

All the laws humanity has created can neatly be addressed by the one commandment: Love one another as you want to be loved.

Reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the instructions for living are so straightforward.  If you cannot live by loving one another, Paul’s instructions are much more direct:

 

Ephesians 4:25-32

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”[d] Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,[e] guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

 

As I sit and gaze up at the night sky, life becomes so simple.  No one can disrupt my universe at that moment.  Even when the dogs erupt in barking at the slightest noise or unexpected movement, no one can disrupt the sense of peace I experience at those moments.

I challenge anybody to sit out at night and look up to the skies.  Just the peace that can fill the soul at that moment is a moment to praise God for the life we have.

In those moments when I spot the plane or the satellite, I am in awe of the gifts God has given us to use.  The brain is such a complex design and God sat it in motion some how.

We may not completely understand how God exists or how to fully use the complex design of  our brains, but we just must not misuse it.

We must learn to use it to continue expanding the universe, true; but we must also learn to use it to preserve the universe, too.

Paul’s message to the Ephesians emphasizes, too, how we must use God’s gift of life to love one another.  He created us in a manner that we are gifted with a brain and the skills to use it. We just have to accept the responsibility to use it as stewards of this world, as neighbors to one another, and as peacemakers loving one another as we want to be loved.

Doing so, we discover the gifts God has for us whether it be the nighttime fireworks of the Persoid meteor shower, the sparkling stars of universes beyond our own, or even the manmade glories as seen in the tiny lights of planes and satellites constantly traveling around God’s world in which we live.

The morning sun is creeping up behind me.  I no longer see the nighttime stars.  The little hummingbird is chirping at me, and my day begins.

The marvels of this world all find their beginning in the The Word.  God is a presence in my life that feeds me as well as others who believe.  God loves each one of us so much that he was willing to do all he could to assure us that we do live in the Garden of Eden.

When we struggled to remain faithful, he never gave up.  When we kept messing things up, he made the decision to walk with us in the human form of Jesus.

And when Jesus had shown us how to live loving one another, and taught those around him, God took him home.  God had faith in those Jesus taught, and yet there were those who did not accept those teachings.

Even when Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified, God resurrected him.  God demonstrated how to love one another even when others do not.  Yet, God wanted to equip those who believe.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he taught one more lesson.  He explained that those who believed will always have God with them in the form of the Holy Spirit.

As this morning’s sunshine awakens the world around me, I know God’s presence. I believe in the Holy Spirit who keeps me connected to God and to all who believe.  I believe in the Holy Spirit as God’s presence that guides me in living a life loving one another.  I believe that the Holy Spirit fuels the way in which the gifts God gave us make and shape the glories of this universe so we may witness the light whether in the Perseid meteor shower or as seen in the manmade satellites.

God is good.  God is life. God is always present in our lives whether in the middle of the night or in the noon time sunshine of day.

 

A morning prayer:

Dear Loving Father of the Universe and beyond,

Thank you for the light show during the middle of the night.

Thank you for the quiet sounds of owls, bugs, and breezes against the wind chimes.

Thank you for the surprises of foxes prowling the yard, the rabbits eating the backyard clover, of the neighborhood cats climbing over the fence, and the music of the birds.

Thank you for the multitude of gifts you grant to each of us so we may expand our life experiences in so many different ways.

Thank you for the relationships that flourish due to loving one another.

Thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ so we could learn how to live side by side peacefully, lovingly.

Guide us in our decisions to preserve this world.

Guide us in the decisions we make in our daily lives.

Guide us in serving as your emissaries of love.

Guide us to find the best ways to tackle the challenges of those who fail to follow your teachings.

May we do all we can in our homes, our communities, and our countries to share you unconditional love.

May we all discover the glory of your kingdom now and do all we can to share it with others.

May we be the light in the darkest of nights so others may find your grace.  In the name of you the Father, your son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Perseid Meteor Shower: 

[Accessed on August 13, 2018 at https://www.space.com/32868-perseid-meteor-shower-guide.html]

 

Earth will pass through the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle from July 17 to Aug. 24, with the shower’s peak — when Earth passes through the densest, dustiest area — occurring on Aug. 12. That means you’ll see the most meteors in the shortest amount of time near that peak, but you can still catch some action from the famed meteor shower before or after that point.

You can see the Perseid meteor shower best in the Northern Hemisphere and down to the mid-southern latitudes, and all you need to catch the show is darkness, somewhere comfortable to sit and a bit of patience.

Comet Swift-Tuttle is the largest object known to repeatedly pass by Earth; its nucleus is about 16 miles (26 kilometers) wide. It last passed nearby Earth during its orbit around the sun in 1992, and the next time will be in 2126. But it won’t be forgotten in the meantime, because Earth passes through the dust and debris it leaves behind every year, creating the annual Perseid meteor shower.

When you sit back to watch a meteor shower, you’re actually seeing the pieces of comet debris heat up as they enter the atmosphere and burn up in a bright burst of light, streaking a vivid path across the sky as they travel at 37 miles (59 km) per second. When they’re in space, the pieces of debris are called “meteoroids,” but when they reach Earth’s atmosphere, they’re designated as “meteors.” If a piece makes it all the way down to Earth without burning up, it graduates to “meteorite.” Most of the meteors in the Perseids are much too small for that; they’re about the size of a grain of sand.

 

Just a note:

I missed sharing last week, and that is one of the truths I am finding during this time of recharging:  I do not have a formal schedule.  I have always functioned around a structured week.

Learning to establish a structure apart from a traditional job is a new learning experience for me.  I am setting goals and need to develop a “work schedule” in order to achieve those goals, but the summer schedule seems more erratic than I expected.

I follow another blogger who I admire.  She writes every day—or at least almost every day.  She includes pictures and other links with such ease.  Hopefully I will develop a more fluid approach during the next few months as I work to reach new personal and professional goals.

Thank you for reading and sharing your input, too.

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Reading for fun once again

 

Somewhere along the line, I discovered I had lost fun reading in my life.  I know where it started over 11 years ago when I stepped into the Course of Study to be better equipped to serve as a local pastor.

 

At that time, I was working full time in a public school alternative program, trying to take the required courses, preparing for Sunday worship services, and so forth.  Time to read?  Only for the course work or the sermon.

 

Reading opened the world to me as an elementary student.  Raised in a small rural school setting, the books available usually lined a couple of shelves in the classroom.  Going to the library helped, but one book led to another book.  At that time, teachers expected us to read and to make book reports. I did.

 

I could not get enough. I read everything I could from my classroom’s library.  In the summers I read from the local library.  And I learned so much.

 

Thank goodness Mom and Dad approved, in fact I learned that if I had a book report to do, the chores took a back seat—now if that did not encourage me to read.

 

Quite a memory, I know, but when I left fun reading about a decade ago, I left out an important piece of my learning.  Therefore, I am reading again:  fun reading; not required for a class or a sermon.

 

I had picked up a book several years ago, The Yada Yada Prayer Groupby Neta Jackson.  I thought it sounded like fun to read with my college girlfriends—and it was on sale.  But I did not get it read.

 

Over the next few years, I found the book had spun out into a series, so I started collecting them—always on sale.  After reading the book, Talking with God, I knew I needed to read.

 

The first book I picked up was The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling.  I thought it was number one, but in reality it turned out to be number 6.

 

The point I am making is that I read.  And the reading is still connected to my faith journey.  The books share all the real life experiences that the members of the diverse prayer group deal with and how the prayer group keeps the focus on God.  I needed that reminder.

 

Therefore I am fun reading with a recharged sense of faith.  The inner thoughts of the main character sound terribly familiar.  The experiences of the women are just the same as so many I have experienced or know of others who have experienced them somewhere along their lives.

 

The amazing thing, though, is that through scripture, shared prayer, and worship—especially praise worship, one grows in faith.  I know that John Wesley struggled to understand whether or not he had enough faith, but I remember that his brother Charles told him to live like he did.

 

Sometimes we make Christian living sound so difficult, but in reality it is simple.  Love one another in the same way you want to be loved. Accept that bad things happen, but God never leaves your side.

 

Just stay the course (pardon the cliché), because as long as you continue to follow the scriptures, practice, practice, practice living the Golden Rule and praying.

 

Those inner nudges that you hear really are instructions from God.  Listen to them and check them against the scripture you know.  Check them with others in a small group—yes, a small group setting is Wesleyan and is proven to be a key part of one’s spiritual practices.

 

I may be in a season of recharging, but I have to say that reading for fun is fuel for the future. I am finding rest as I sit and read. I am finding confirmation in understanding the Holy Spirit.  I am encouraged that there is so much more to do.

 

Sunday morning’s sermon at Sedalia’s First UMC with Rev. Jim Downing reminded us that Paul told us to put on our armor.  That armor, outlined in Ephesians 6:10-20, may sound old fashioned, but continues to defend us from evil:

 

The Whole Armor of God

10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we[a] are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.[b] 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.[c] 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.[d]

19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.[e] 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. [NLT accessed at biblegateway.com]

 

Thank you to Rev. Downing for reminding us how important it is to read, to pray, and to worship in order to defend ourselves from the challenges of living in our secular world.

 

He provided the following prayer starter for this week:

 

Lord, I want to know what it means to be overtaken by your promises. Grant me the grace to remain obedient and faithful to you, never wavering in my faith in what you have promised.

 

We all need recharging in order to live in a world filled with evil and unexpected challenges or temptations.  We need to read—scripture, yes, but sometimes messages come in other forms such as The Yada Yada Prayer Group.

 

If you are unsure what to read, maybe the reading from this week’s lectionary will help:

  • 2 Samuel 11:1-15 or 2 Kings 4:42-44
  • Psalms 14 or Psalms 145:10-18
  • Ephesians 3:14-21
  • John 6:1-21

 

Whatever you do, find what arms you the best for your spiritual journey.  There is no telling what words God is speaking to you.  Just know that he is with you and wanting to talk to you.

 

Here is my prayer:

 

Dear God, The Word,

Thank you for speaking to me through words

   even when I am reading for fun.

Thank you for all that I can learn through words

   whether in scripture, in studies, or in fun.

Let my words help others in their faith journeys

   so they may experience your words in their lives.

Words of armor, words of guidance, words of fun

   are your words speaking to us.  –Amen

 

P.S.  I finished book one and started book 2 in the series. Sure is fun.

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Susandoodles in print

Good morning, All!  As you can see by the title of this blog, I have found a way to continue ministry in a different format.  I may be out of the pulpit now, but I have some who have no way to be in church.  Therefore, I have been trying to find a way to continue reaching out to them–and they are not on line.  I suddenly realized this morning that I could develop a newsletter format to mail to those who are not on line.  Therefore, I am creating it while adding to my blog.  The change will need refinement, I am sure, but here is the first attempt:

“Recharging,” a friend said

Last week I wrote a blog that stated that in this period of rest I was sensing confusion.  My friend replied to the blog said maybe I should consider this is a time for ‘recharging.’

 

As the week continued on filled with so much to do, I realized rest continues to be evasive.  The fact is that I have always lived with a goal in mind and a process to follow to reach that goal.

 

Therefore, I have thought a great deal about the term recharging and have decided that is the best definition for my current status.  I am recharging.

 

Refueling tends to mean that one has completely run out of fuel, and I just did not feel that was the situation.  I also know that rest was needed because I was locked into a mindset that kept me in a work mode rather than do something for fun (partly because it seems wasteful and selfish).

 

Recharging indicates that the fuel still keeps you running, but it is getting low.  Maybe I was getting low enough that the dash light had come on and those around me noticed it before I did.

 

Therefore, I am going to consider myself ‘recharging’ rather than on a prescribed rest or having to be refueled.  Thank you to my friend for the suggestion, but also thank you to the DS and other friends and family members who noticed that the warning light had lit up and insisted that I needed to recharge.

 

Today, I have suddenly seen a little picture into how I can continue to share thoughts with others who do not have internet access—a written form of Susandoodles.  This will give me an opportunity to stay connected, but also to share faith journeys in different ways.  I pray that this reaches you and it lifts you up.

 

Ephesians prayer for our use

Sunday, another sermon in Rev. Jim Downing’s Masterpieceseries on Ephesians, introduced the prayer that Paul shared for spiritual growth.

 

I find listening to a sermon on a scripture that I have also used creates an eerie feeling—partly that I may have gotten something wrong, but also a sense of relief that those verses speak to others, too.

 

Using Ephesians 3:14-21, Rev. Downing provided a version with blanks in it. When I saw the small handout, I wondered why the blanks.  The instructions at the bottom said, “Consider filling in the blank with the name of a loved one, a friend, a co-worker, neighbor or person from the community, or even a person with whom you have trouble. Pray sincerely for God to do these things in and for their lives.  You can also pray this prayer for yourself.”

 

Here is the prayer:

Lord, I pray that out of Your glorious riches __________ may be strengthened with power through God’s Spirit in __________’s inner being, so that Christ may dwell in __________’s heart through faith.  And I pray that __________, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know that this love that surpasses knowledge—that __________ may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to God’s power that is at work within us, to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever!  Amen.

 

My prayer is that this tool Rev. Downing provided brings the faithful closer to God, but also heal the wounds in relationships.

 

An extra note on this scripture/prayer

This summer, my daughter and I have joined in a Bible study entitled, #Fruited, which is written by Bonnie Kathryn Hunter and Bethany Fleming, two teachers (ironically one a kindergarten teacher and one a high school English teacher—which matches our teaching careers).

 

The concept is that when one is rooted in scripture, one is able to enjoy the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) in all life situations.

 

The experience of working through the study (we are in the last week) has been such a new experience for the two of us, but it keeps intersecting with real life and our philosophy in teaching in surprising ways.

 

The study also keeps running into other scriptures, and one is the Paul’s letter prayer Rev. Downing used and I have used in the past:  three different presentations on the same verse within the last year.

 

As I continue recharging and listening for God’s next call in my own life, the scriptures are the high octane fuel of our lives.  I hope that as I continue to find ways of sharing my faith, my Susandoodles blog or this Susandoodles in print can help others in their faith journey.  May God’s blessings be with you.

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Resting in confusion

Three weeks into a rest period, I find myself in confusion.  I am so used to operating on a schedule and knowing my goals, this pause in that life is very uncomfortable.

I am so fortunate to have family and friends–personal and professional, who know how confusing this time is for me and know that I want to race through rest to the next step.  This set of family and friends just keep telling me to rest.

This morning a second visit to Rev. Jim Downing’s church filled me again.  True it is a 30 mile drive, but going in and feeling comfortable among no one I know is evidence of how the Holy Spirit can make it feel like family.

For the past 10 years, I have organized my life around my work.  First I was a teacher, especially in an alternative setting; but then I added in part time pastoring.  The pressure to maintain all that I needed for both jobs just seemed natural.  Then I retired from the teaching profession.

Now retiring from one’s lifetime career is stressful enough.  I have now realized retirement really means being “really tired.”  I still had the church as a part time job, but I was used to full time work.  I probably used as much time now for the part time job, and worked hard to rest in the evenings.  Not easy

Speeding forward through the past three years, I am now trying to rest.  Not really retired, just working at resting.  And naturally, resting leads one to see all the daily household chores and postponed projects now have no reason to put off.  So, I am finding that rest can still be elusive.

In our Midwestern lifestyle, there seems to be a sense that one must work every day in order to achieve their goals.  I did not grow up knowing how to ‘play.’  Life on the family farm meant there were always chores.  We did stop on Sunday, though, and rest.  Even this concept is lost in our farming culture today–now farming is 24/7.

Rest.  I am learning that to rest, I have to give myself permission to rest.  I have to close off my ears to the internal yelling about all the work there is to do.  I also have to turn off the clock.  I have no reason to rush ahead, but my internal clock says I have such a limited time frame to use for rest even though I have NO time frame at all.

So here I am in week three of my rest, and I am confused.  Thank goodness my family and friends know me well enough to accept my confusion in this time of rest, but also know me well enough to reprimand me when I start tressing out over the timeframe.

One of my personal goals in this time of rest is to figure out how to listen to God.  I must quieten myself enough to recognize his voice.  This week I read a book by Adam Weber, Talking with God.   I started it and could not stop, finishing it in one day.  I separated myself so much from my typical day that I heard God.  I found energy.  I recognized Mom’s voice, too.

Thank you, Adam Weber, for such a clear discussion of talking with God.  I know what it is to be exhausted.  I know what it is to have unconditional love.  I know how hard it is to wait.  Your work spoke to me and speaks for me.  I know God speaks through your words, too.

One of the results of reading this is a driving desire to share this understanding from Adam Weber with others.  I wanted to buy a case of the books and start sending them off to others who I wanted them to know/experience this conversation.

Maybe this is what rest is.  Maybe I need to give myself permission to read–without a highlighter in my hand or note papers to record on.  Maybe I need to share what I read via the blog or Twitter.  This is all part of my process.  Rest in the moment also means being alert to how God can use me in those moments.

I may be assigned a period of rest, but my confusion still needs to be decluttered.  I guess I must remember that there is no timeline other than God’s.  Thank you to Rev. Downing, Rev. Weber, and my family and friends for helping me make my way to refreshment and renewal during this extended, uncertain time of rest.

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Americans: Happy Birthday! Happy 242nd!

Dear Americans,

I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday.  I know getting older sometimes makes us want to skip a birthday, but let face it–no one really wants to be ignored on their birthday.

This year it is difficult to celebrate, I know, because the America we have today has developed into a “happy July $ rather than a July 4.”  Just look at that, the dollar sign is a capped 4.  Rather ironic, isn’t it.

America today does not seem to reflect the face of the America in 1776.  A time when unjust taxing and a monarchy-style government did not meet the needs of the Americans living in an entirely different setting facing different challenges than those leading across the Atlantic.

Today’s America does not seem to be reflecting the images that founders developed in the Declaration of Independence read on July 4, 1776, nor the United States Constitution approved in 1787.

What makes America great is not the dollar sign currently driving decisions, rather it was people.  The foundations of this country were built on individual freedoms, on a representative form of democracy, on a government that was kept balanced through the checks and balance.

This July 4–not July $–needs to keep the focus on celebrating the very principles that our founding fathers established in these two documents.  Each government official needs to read each of these documents carefully and then evaluate each decision, each vote, through those two filters.

Each voter must consider who they elect, what they approve through the filters of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

Each educator needs to make sure that students are introduced to these principles and taught them.

Each immigrant that arrives to make their lives American, need to study these documents and then proceed to become voting citizens who have adopted the principles our founding fathers designed (immigrants who do proceed to earn citizenship do have to pass a test that far exceeds the required tests for students in the public school system).

So happy July Fourth, Americans.  Stand proud, but remember your responsibilities.  Then celebrate.

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In the end, no dry bones. . . just the lion, the wolf and the lamb

This is the final sermon after 10 years in the pulpit.  Sunday, June 24, will also be the last sermon that I have threaded together the images of the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window (Leawood, KS).  This has been such an interesting six months as I have studied the window and considered its creation as a visual sermon.  There is so much to share concerning God and his story that the ideas never seem to run out.  Ending 10 years does not mean an ending to ministry, just an ending to this pulpit at this time.  I will do my best to rest for a bit, but my mind continues to spin out ideas.  Thank you for reading and following these sermons.  I do not plan to end blogging, just the postings may be different.  Only God knows what will appear on this site at this time.  Please be patient and continue to follow.

 

Sitting at the desk with the funeral of the two KCK police officers in the background, I struggle to pick up the task of writing this final sermon.  I am reminded that evil lurks in every community and that as Christians we are to be God’s eyes, hands, and feet.

Looking at the COS window, there is one more image that cannot be overlooked:

 

#31  THE LION, WOLF AND THE LAMB—In the Restored Paradise, all of God’s creatures live together in peace and harmony.  The healing salve of God’s kingdom extends beyond humanity to include all of creation, raised to its highest pitch of existence.  (Read Isaiah 65:25)

 

I was familiar with the image of the lion and the lamb and was surprised to see the wolf included still the scripture does include all three animals.  Understanding the significance of all three broadens the message even though most religious art includes just the lion and the lamb.

The window’s image is based on the ultimate goal God has where evil is overcome by good; where all live in harmony.  God’s ultimate goal needs to be the same for each of us.  The concern is how do we reach that goal, even if just in our own church, our own community.

Reading the lectionary provides a structure for all Christians regardless of denomination, nationality, age, gender, or any other identifying label.  Even though I have used the images in the window to prepare sermons since Christmas, the lectionary provides a foundational connection to all Christians and often fits right in with the images in the window.

Reading the lectionary included Ezekiel 37 a few weeks ago, and that scripture provided me the foundation for today’s reflection. It does not connect directly to the image of the lion, wolf and lamb, but it does speak to this church family facing the next transition in leadership.

Let me share Ezekiel’s story.  The Israelites were captives of Babylonia, and Ezekiel was a trained, young priest and a contemporary of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah ministered to the Israelites in Judah, but Ezekiel prophesied to those exiled in Babylonia.

Consider the exiles.  They were forced out of their homes and living in a culture that was foreign to them.  They must have felt hopeless.  They must have felt abandoned.  And Ezekiel was a “street preacher,” as study notes labeled him.  He was a prophet who had to feed hope to the Israelites.  He had to guide them through prophecies and scripture to remain faithful to God.

Ezekiel’s words recorded in the Old Testament were written about 571 B.C., yet the words are timeless and his message is as important today as it was 2,500 years ago.  Hear his vision of “A Valley of Dry Bones”:

The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”

    Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

    So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.

    Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

    10 So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.

    11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone.Our nation is finished.’12 Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live againand return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’”

 

Continuing the reflection:

Certainly we do not live in exile as the ancient Israelites did when Ezekiel was prophesying, but the truth is that we are living in a valley of dry bones.  We live in exile because evil continues to thrive.  We cannot ignore how close evil is, especially this week as we have lost two more police officers to evil and as we watched children ripped from their parents in the name of federal law enforcement.

Evil places you in exile in your own community.  And you become tired.  You become the dry bones Ezekiel saw in that valley.  You lose hope.  Yet, you return to worship each week because as Christians that is part of your lifestyle.  But, even sitting right here in your very own sanctuary, in your own spot on the pew, you are at risk of being the dry bones Ezekiel saw in that valley.

God asked Ezekiel if the dry bones could be brought back to life.  Ezekiel, the priest, answered, “O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”  He placed full faith in God.  Do you?

Today, even I feel like dry bones.  I stepped into the pulpit ten years ago with a vision. The community is not a valley of dry bones, but it is a valley of lives who desperately need to know God.  God can breathe new life into the dry bones, but it takes a community of faithful who can see the community through God’s eyes and rely on God to breathe life back into dry bones.

Ezekiel’s vision of a valley filled with dry bones did not end his story.  He was encouraged by God’s demonstration of bringing the dry bones back to life.  Can you say that God’s Holy Spirit is keeping your bones alive?  Or do you feel that you are nothing more than dry bones?

As you make the change from one pastor to another, remember that God can bring a valley of dry bones to life to continue the work he assigned to the faithful.

God told us to be good stewards of this earth.  God told us to love one another as we want to be loved.  These are not commands that can be ignored.  These are the simple instructions God has to keep evil away, to keep peace, to keep the lion, the wolf, and the lamb lying peacefully together.

As this month closes out, July brings a new beginning for this community of faithful.  God lives within each and every one of you, but you must do your part to keep it alive.  To avoid becoming a valley of dry bones, you must follow the discipline of the faithful.

  • You must read scripture.
  • You must pray.
  • You must participate in a community of faith.
  • You must remember your baptism.
  • You must serve one another in love.
  • You must see the world through God’s eyes—all the world, not just your own household.
  • You must listen to the Holy Spirit as he guides you to serve as God’s arms and feet in this community, part of God’s entire world.

If you do not, evil will win and the valley will be filled with nothing more than dry bones.

Concluding the reflection:

            In the book of Ezekiel, God assures Ezekiel that he is able to revive the dry bones:

    11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone.Our nation is finished.’12 Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again. . .

Today I tell you, God does reside within you as the Holy Spirit.  You do not have to be dry bones.  You must follow the discipline of the faithful and God will keep you alive.

The Church continues its work.  It depends on the entire network of congregations to serve as God’s agents defending against evil, seeing to the needs of all God’s children, and finding ways to keep dry bones alive.  In our denomination, the United Methodist Church, we have so much to do, so many tools to use, such a faith community to serve in so many ways.

Today we follow the Methodist tradition of serving in ministry, too.  We change roles as we are called to do.  We stand together to serve as we are called to serve.  We know that there are lions, wolves, and lambs surrounding us, but if we do our job the best that we can, they, too will be able to lie down together in peace.

In Isaiah 65:25, we hear these words:

The wolf and the lamb will feed together.
The lion will eat hay like a cow.
But the snakes will eat dust.
In those days no one will be hurt or destroyed on my holy mountain.

 

Each community that fails to love one another as they want to be loved needs God.  My prayer for the community, here and globally, is that with the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s work can lead to all working side by side to minister to others in need.

 

Sharing of the Missouri Methodist’s 2018-2019 mission goals:

            During annual conference, three mission goals were identified through special offerings.  I have asked Sharon, Vada and Tamera share them with you at this time. When the local church is tired and at risk of becoming a valley of dry bones, connecting with others in mission is one more way to be alive:

 

  1. Mozambique Sustainability Reboot (Sharon)

This offering will relaunch the Mozambique Initiative’s efforts to create opportunities for church-going entrepreneurs through sustainability projects. In 2012, the Mozambique Initiative added sustainability as a key component to our partnership. After reviewing projects completed during the 2012-2017 program, we believe the best way to reboot is by focusing on smaller projects ($400 or less) for individual entrepreneurs. Our goal for this offering is to provide microloans for at least 25 entrepreneurs in Mozambique.

 

  1. Pathway Out of Poverty (Vada)

Gifts shared in this offering will be distributed for the work of administering our Pathway out of Poverty initiative focused on literacy. Your gift to this initiative will help us equip local churches to connect with schools in their communities and provide them with relationship-building resources. Research shows that children who struggle to read in first grade are 88 percent more likely to struggle in grade four. And those who struggle in fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. Give generously today as we seek to break cycles of poverty by connecting with our schools.

 

  1. Puerto Rico Disaster Response (Tamera)

The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico continues to rebuild following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017. Thirty-eight churches were damaged with 10 nearly destroyed. Yet, the people of Puerto Rico have remained strong. Your gift will help rebuild a Methodist health clinic on the island of Vieques. This clinic will be the primary point of care for the island’s population of 12,000 people – care that is desperately needed as residents wait a projected two years for electricity to be fully restored. Join us in standing with the people of Vieques; your donation will make a difference today!

 

The United Methodist Church is not a valley of dry bones. The church is an army of Christians who are equipped to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

You are part of God’s army here in this community, but you are part of a global community, too.  Let the Holy Spirit loose to serve here, but also to join with others in any way that you can so the lion, the wolf and the lamb can live peacefully together.

Closing prayer:

            Dear God Almighty,

You created a world filled with good,

And evil found its way in.

You commanded each of us

To take care of this world and each other

Yet evil continues to exist around us.

Breathe into these dry bones

New life, new energy to do your work.

May the Holy Spirit fill up your children.

May your children see dry bones come alive.

In the name of you the Father,

the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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