Getting Back

I’ve not used this as a blog much anymore since the second surgery and I say I will start using it again, but it doesn’t ever happen. But that stops tonight. Because this is the place that I process. This is the place where I don’t read anything back over. Unedited. Semi-uncensored. Real. Raw. I started this blog before my first brain surgery. I would read back over my post, but that would break my cardinal rule! =0)

I didn’t understand at the time the ramifications “brain tumor” would have on my life. Some would say I was in denial. But I’ve processed things at my own pace, along and along. I didn’t look up what type of tumor I had until the December after I had the first surgery in June. When the tumor increased in grade, I didn’t process it (what with the radiation, chemo, speech, occupational, and physical therapy) until a transatlantic flight to the Ukraine. Still then, I didn’t share it with anyone until March. That the movie “Stuck in Love” let me know I want to see Enoch and Evy go to college. That’s the age group I spend my life working with so I will hope beyond hope that I get to see it happen.

Evy asked me on Tuesday if I would be around when she is a grown up and I said honestly, “I hope so.”

I’ve been hesitant to share openly, honestly and vulnerably on here because this is a public forum whether I post these blogs on facebook or twitter or not. I began working a new job two years ago and I didn’t want them to judge me as weak, broken, or not enough, especially after the second surgery at the end of the first year I was here. I KNOW that’s not what most people thought, but that’s how I felt. I tell my students all the time don’t wear masks, don’t hide who you are, and I feel like I’ve had a mask on here. I don’t mind posting sermons or speaking gigs, but I’m hesitant to share the day to day because it’s filled with all of the challenges and I feel like if I don’t write them down and just shake them off or zip past them than I’m not dwelling on them, but as my mom reminded me this past week, what a wonderful testimony of what God can do. I’ve received my share of challenges, but God’s grace and love and peace and strength is ever sufficient for all my needs. Mom often hears the Mother Teresa quote, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” I do not even begin to think of myself as Mother Teresa, I’m not that saintly and I like tv shows too much, but I can do the best I can to be as authentic as I can be. Sharing the good times and the bad, the mountain tops and the valleys.

PS – I did the title based off an old Silers Bald song.

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We are chosen for something.

Our first scripture is from Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Let us start with a definition of “talent.” tal•ent
1. natural aptitude or skill. “he possesses more talent than any other player”
synonyms: flair, aptitude, facility, gift, knack, technique, touch, bent, ability,expertise, capacity, faculty;
2. a former weight and unit of currency, used especially by the ancient Romans and Greeks.

A talent is a large sum of money, equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years. Precisely as a result of the wide circulation of this story, “talent” came into the English language in the Middle Ages as a term for God-given abilities, “gifts and graces.” The talents in this story refer to money; the differing abilities of the recipients are referred to in other terms. Isn’t it fascinating that just from this biblical passage that we get the first definition of talent when it means the second one. Strange.

Our second scripture is from 2 Timothy 1:6-14 (NRSV),

6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher,[a] 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

God doesn’t choose us simply for the sake of choosing; being chosen doesn’t mean that you’re better than others. When God chooses us, we’re chosen FOR something.

I posted on my facebook an article from Relevant called “So You Have No Idea What Your ‘Calling’ Is.” Here’s an excerpt from the article. “One of the biggest things was that the millennial generation, their unique challenges notwithstanding, could change the world. The first time I heard this I was inspired, but what started as inspiration began to build into anxiety. Words like “calling” and “vocation” sound great until you realize you don’t know yours. There is just no way around this. Patience and perseverance have to become defining attributes of our journey to find our calling. Sure, there are the people out there who knew they were going to be missionaries from the first time they saw a map (and even they have to wait and prepare), but for the vast majority of us, it takes more time. We have to learn new things, grow up, build community, work at Starbucks, drop out of Grad school or take our first graphic design class before we start to have an idea of what we want to do. We have to consider our talents and passions and seek out wisdom. And when we do start to figure it out, we may have to come to terms with the fact that our place in the process might look a little bit more like making someone’s day by brewing an incredible cup of coffee rather than revolutionizing the whole industry through fair-trade initiatives.”

I’m here to tell you, you CAN and WILL change the world. Don’t be paralyzed by the idea of that. Let that wash over you like a wave washing over you in the ocean. You see the God that knit you together in your mother’s womb and knows when you sit and when you rise is calling you forth to share YOUR gift to the world. Don’t start comparing yourself to others because that only sets you up for dissatisfaction, envy, failure, frustration and it’s unhealthy. We are each given a part to play.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Start at beginning – 3:22

So we’re each given skills and abilities and choices. No one is talentless. Everyone gets their own moment to shine even Neville Longbottom.

The second scripture is 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-11 (NRSV) says, 1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”

Everyone has been given gifts spiritual and otherwise. Ask God to help you see and know your specific gifts, those that you bring to a world full of darkness. Take a spiritual gift survey. Take one of the many on buzzfeed just for fun and find out what Superhero you are. Or ask someone that you trust: a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, a friend. Ask them.

This quote is from The Legend of Bagger Vance, a favorite of mine. It’s a quote that Bagger, played by Will Smith, tells Harley the young kid that is serving as the assistant caddy.

“Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing. Something that we were born with. Something that’s ours and ours alone. Something that can’t be taught to you or learned. Something that got to be remembered. Over time the world can rob us of that swing. It can be buried inside us in the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s. Some people forget what their swing was like.”

Our true authentic swing. We have to be given eyes to see and know. When those around you are telling you and God’s leading you, you CAN move mountains. God is faithful and true and the Holy Spirit can guide and lead us in our gifts and graces as the Spirit moves us to CLAIM our gifts.

1:19 – 2:14 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60PQRpo9T-Q “Legend of Bagger Vance”

This next clip admittedly is from a kid’s movie, The Rise of the Guardians. It asks the question, “What is your center?” What are the things that make you – YOU? What makes me Narcie? What makes her…? What makes him…?

Rise of the Guardians – “What is your center?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8k8s0JyzJsk

So Santa’s outside can be intimidating, but his center is full of wonder.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKroB30l7dk – Rise of the Guardians – Jack’s Center

What makes you – YOU? What is your center? Jack’s center is fun. I would say mischief making, like my 7 year old Enoch. What is your center? Why did God place you on this earth in this particular time, in this particular place? Not in a braggy, self-centered kind of way. Too much self-love is a detriment and can lead you on the path of destruction. Not to mention getting your head through the door.

If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, if it feels like you’re not worthy or good enough. If you’re feeling like the kid from Polar Express, that God forgot you when God gave out the gifts, you’re not alone. All of us struggle with doubt and fear and dark nights of the soul.

Sudha Khristmukti’s “More Than Enough” is a poem that speaks to this.

“Something is better than nothing,” I say to myself.

Still another voice persists:

“Will my gift, which appears so meager, count amidst this sea of other offerings?” I ache with doubt. And yet I saw how my leaking faucet filled a bucket last night. One drop at a time. More isn’t always the most, and less isn’t always the least. Approachability. Availability. Dependability. Listening ears, understanding heart. Words of encouragement, being present when it matters most. Selflessness and the gift of self. If the smallest act to even one life becomes significant enough, it might just make a world of difference. The endless possibilities lie with the One who can use the whole of what we think is merely a mite, a part. Here and now, if we simply present whatever we are, whatever we can, and whatever we have, somehow it would be more than enough, more than worthwhile.”

God is going to be with you every step of the way. The great God of the universe is going to be with you every step of the way. Do you realize the power in that? Or are you still in the mire and muck that holds you back? The baggage that weighs you down?

- 2:15 – to the end – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Mk2Tca88Xo “Legend of Bagger Vance”

Even when God doesn’t seem like it, even if you’re hoarse from crying out, God is there.

This expresses the dark night of the soul that Henri Nouwen often writes about. “My Garden of Gethsemane” by Naomi Faw -

“In the dark night of my soul I long for someone’s comfort and no one comes. There is no one to call. I imagine Jesus in the Garden praying until sweat became blood and even the disciples would not wake. This night is my garden. When will help come? Where is grace? Will I be able to take one more step? The dark night passes and no one came. Or, perhaps Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.”

Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.

I promise you that if you ask God, seek God with all of your heart, God will answer you. If not, come see me, and we’ll pray together and ask God to help you to see, know, and feel God’s great love for you. These are familiar words from Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” You don’t have to figure everything out now. It’s not a snap your fingers sort of thing. It’s a journey. It’s a process. There’s no pressure but as Mother Teresa says, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” We can all do small things throughout the day, throughout our lives with great love.

http://vimeo.com/46300983

You were made for a purpose. If it’s clean water. Get educated. More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. If it’s world hunger. Know your facts. Every 5 seconds a child dies from hunger. You can make a difference. You weren’t put here in this particular time, in this particular place, with your God given gifts and graces by mistake. Go, ye, therefore and change the world for Jesus.

Let your light shine. Your stars that you were given represent the gifts and graces you have been given as well as a tangible reminder of the hopes, dreams, and passions as you envision your gifts being used to bring about the kingdom of God. To help you see that you’re enough. Help you see you’re worthy to approach the throne of grace with confidence. You see these stars symbolize our lights shining collectively in the world. When you claim your gifts for God, it makes the light brighter, stronger, more full. These are not gifts to hoard; they are gifts to share with the world. Like “This Little Light of Mine” says, don’t be hiding your light under a bushel because the world wants and needs to see your light.

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God chooses us just as we are.

chosen1
So we’re starting this Chosen series. We’re going to delve deeper into this idea that we were Chosen for a purpose and that purpose was God’s.
July 6th – God chooses us just as we are.
July 13th – We are chosen for something.
July 20th – We choose to follow Jesus.
July 27th – We choose to step out. We are a movement not a moment.
August 3rd – We (the church) are chosen for the world to ROCK it.
August 10th – Chosen to share the Good News.
August 17th – Chosen to be restored and to have our heart’s desires.

So it’s all going to be about God’s using us. God calling each and every one of us. God’s drawing the world to God’s self through us, if we only are ready to be used by God. If we’re ready to be real. If we’re ready to show the world our frailties and our failures and the ways our Savior is making all things new through God’s mercy. It’s time to get real and authentic.

Let’s dig in.

Matthew 4:18-22
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Our second scripture this morning is

John 15:16-18
You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.”

Have you ever heard of “call stories?” Well, the first scripture is one of the most famous call stories because Jesus took regular Joe Blow fishermen and called them to fish for people.

They left everything.

My brothers and I grew up as United Methodist preacher’s kids. How many of you were born in 1992? So most of you don’t remember the Steven Curtis Chapman song “For the sake of the Call?” My mom would play it any time we were about to move so we knew anytime that song was playing, change was acoming! That and Michael W. Smith’s song, “Friends are Friends Forever.”

scc_forthesake

He’s got an excellent mullet on the CD cover. We didn’t know what a “mullet” was because many people had them.

Nobody stood and applauded them
So they knew from the start
This road would not lead to fame
All they really knew for sure
Was Jesus had called to them
He said “come follow Me” and they came
With reckless abandon, they came

Empty nets lying there at the water’s edge
Told a story that few could believe
And none could explain
How some crazy fishermen agreed to go where Jesus lead
With no thought to what they would gain
For Jesus had called them by name
And they answered…

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die for the sake of the call
The sake of the call

Drawn like the rivers are drawn to the sea
There’s no turning back, for the water cannot help but flow
Once we hear the Savior’s call, we’ll follow wherever He leads
Because of the love He has shown
And because He has called us to go
We will answer…

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die

Not for the sake of a creed or a cause
Not for a dream or a promise
Simply because it is Jesus who called
And if we believe we’ll obey

If you obey Jesus when he calls, life is going to be a great adventure. We recently had a movie marathon at Gator Wesley because it’s been super rainy in Gainesville. Not just any movie marathon, an Indiana Jones marathon. I had bought them to watch with my children Enoch who is 7 and Evy who is 5. Don’t worry I fast-forwarded the face melting scary parts. But I think of the disciples much like Indiana Jones or Bear Grylls, rugged, with an adventurous, live on the edge spirit. Discipleship is not for the faint of heart but mercies are new every morning and God remains faithful and like Indiana Jones you will finish the Quest by the skin of your teeth or the grace of God.

Did the two fishermen that Jesus called take their fishing nets with them? Nope! They didn’t know where the journey would take them. They couldn’t carry luggage loaded onto a baggage cart. They didn’t even have one of those super cool backpacks. We each have figurative baggage. Most of us carry “stuff” and sometimes it’s like a security blanket. That we hold onto. We carry it with us wherever we go and sometimes we’re afraid to lay it down because we’ve become so comfortable with our “stuff” sometimes it’s familiar and comfortable. Some of us like the prodigal have gotten so used to the pigs and the mud that we are stuck there. Jesus is asking you go on a great adventure and you have to lay down your baggage. Guilt. Shame. Pride. Doubt. Fear. Self-Loathing. Parent’s expectations. The pressure we put on ourselves. Feeling like you’ll never measure up to this person or that person. Lay it all down. Take it off your shoulders. Stop rolling that luggage around.

My son Enoch was in kindergarten last year at Littlewood Elementary and he got a color for every day for his behavior. The colors were blue for an exceptional day, green for a good day, yellow for a one warning day, orange for a two warning day, and red if he had to go to the principal’s office. He would stress out and worry over his color every day knowing that we expected mostly green days, but Enoch is a rambunctious child to say the least, so we were secretly happy with yellow days, and I explained to him, that every day, is a brandnew day with. I would often quote the line in Anne of Green Gables, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” So let it go. Let the idea of perfection go. I saw a bumper sticker a long time ago that said, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” Let all of the expectations that the world has placed on you and the outside stressors go. I’m sure half of you are singing the Frozen song inside your head now, but I’ll say it again, “Let it go” or lay it down.

Our second scripture says we did not choose God, but God chose us that we may bear fruit in the world. God says it won’t be easy, the world will hate us, just like it did him. You see the enemy that wants to only steal, kill, and destroy, doesn’t like when we hear the Shepherd’s voice, when we listen to the voice of truth, our Savior’s voice. That voice that tells us we’re somebody.

In “Manifesting the Glory of God” Marianne Williamson tells us this way, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be. You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Let your light shine that the world may see and know.

This is a famous story, some say Fred Craddock preached it, “A seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One morning they were eating breakfast in a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet, family meal. While waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.”

But sure enough, the man came over to their table. “Where are you folks from?” he asked in a friendly voice. “Oklahoma,” they answered. “Great to have you here in Tennessee,” the stranger said. “What do you do for a living?” “I teach at a seminary,” he replied. “Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I’ve got a really good story for you.” And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down. The professor groaned and thought to himself, “Great. Just what I need — another preacher story!”

The man started, “See that mountain over there?” He pointed out the restaurant window. “Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up because every place he went, he was always asked the same question: “Who’s your father?’ The whole town looked for a family resemblance, whether he was at school, in the grocery store or the drug store, people would ask the same question: “Who do you belong to?” He would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. He would avoid going into stores because that question hurt him. When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question. But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast, he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, ‘Son, who’s your dad?’ The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question of who his father was. The new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to the scared and nervous boy: ‘Wait a minute! I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.’ With that, he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance — go and claim it.’ With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him who his father was, he’d just tell them, ‘I’m a child of God.’

The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, “Isn’t that a great story?” The professor responded that it really was a great story. As the man turned to leave, he said, “You know, if that new preacher hadn’t told me that I was one of God’s children, I probably would never have amounted to anything!” And he walked away.

The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked, “Do you know that man who was just sitting at our table?” The waitress grinned and said, “Of course. Everybody here knows him. That’s Ben Hooper. He’s the former governor of Tennessee!”

It’s a true story. We actually visited the location in 2011 on our way back from a United Methodist Campus Ministry Association conference in Nashville. Lo and behold, right across from the Cracker Barrel in Tennessee was a marker to Ben Hooper.

God chooses us. God reaches for us. God actively pursues us. All we have to do is lay down our baggage and trust in God’s abundant grace.

God wants to be our lighthouse. To guide and lead us as we serve the world.

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Filed under Ben Hooper, Call Stories, Chosen Series, My Lighthouse

Psalm 30 – Paul Shultz

Preached on June 29th, 2014

Psalm 30:1-12
1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
7 By your favor, O LORD,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
8 To you, O LORD, I cried,
and to the LORD I made supplication:
9 “What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me!
O LORD, be my helper!”
11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

John 10:10
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Psalm 30 is an individual, first person singular, psalm of thanksgiving. Rabbinic sources identify Psalm 30 with the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah. I had never noticed that the title of Psalm 30 at least in my Bible was a “Thanksgiving for Recovery from Grave Illness,” but it makes sense. Hear these words again.

“1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.”

You see God wants to give us joy in the morning. Life. Not just merely a blah life, but abundant life. God will be there every step of the way when life gets blah.

I’ve just come back yesterday from two weeks away first visiting my parents in Aiken, then to celebrate and officiate Nikki and Andrew’s wedding, and I was in leadership at a campus ministry conference in Atlanta for the second week. There was a heaviness about me as I journeyed through our time in Atlanta. You see I lost my co-chair, Paul Shultz, in January to flu complications and he was instrumental in planning this conference and the direction for the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association. Paul was a prophetic voice in the wilderness of collegiate ministry and Paul left a deep void. We wrestle with students’ questions every day – with vocation and theodicy and not giving cliched answers, so I’m not giving you an explanation of how a great, healthy man that just turned 50, that was the HAPPIEST I had ever seen him would die from freaking flu complications. It’s unanswerable and we don’t have pit pat answers to explain it away, but Paul gives answers through his sermons in the funeral service his children put together. (It’s linked to the end of this blog.)

You see we campus ministers are a bunch of misfits and after serving several local churches, Paul found that his calling led him to serve the University of Iowa Wesley Foundation. Paul was a big, hulking guy that made me feel petite. We got to know each other pretty well as we rotated on UMCMA’s Coordinating Committee at the same time in 2009. Then at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, UMCMA got two houses for collegiate ministers to volunteer their time to advocate for United Methodist Collegiate Ministry in Ybor City. Paul and I sat right next to each other on the front row for the General Administration committee for the entire time the legislative committees were in session. I will never forget our excitement when critical votes happened in the committee, and West remarked later it was like a “circus with the tent on fire.”

You see Paul before he was my co-chair was the Advocacy chair for UMCMA and had been instrumental on getting legislation passed at both the 2008 and 2012 General Conference. Paul set the course, created Advocacy packets, gave us our legislative assignments, and was the bridge between the old guard and us newbies. He floated in and out of conversations with wizened lifers (people who have campus ministry in their DNA and are in it for life) and could be a mentor or a jokester or a friend. We worked hard at that General Conference and we played hard as we went back to the UMCMA houses to strategize and blow off steam and create a beautiful community.

He had a wicked, self-deprecating, sense of humor. He would often greet people with “Glad you could see me!” instead of “Glad to see you!” And that was just Paul. Without a doubt, Paul Shultz knew he who was. He was deeply rooted and he was proud to be from Iowa, even naming the famous Iowans at dinner one night. He is one of those rare people that care about their ministry setting while equally caring for the whole denomination. I didn’t realize how rare that was. He cared deeply about the whole of The United Methodist Church. Although we didn’t agree on everything, after all I’m a girl in her 30′s from South Carolina and he was a guy that had just turned 50 from Iowa, we could disagree and it was okay because we respected each other enough to show love and grace and we felt secure in our positions. He influenced me more than he knew. He was a mentor and a friend. I’ll never forget him doing the closing of our October meeting in Atlanta as we planned for this conference. He talked about serving small churches in rural Iowa and at the conclusion of his story had half of us wiping tears from our eyes.

On a more personal note, Paul was my rock during the 2013 UMCMA biennial conference in Denver and as soon as I asked him for help he picked up the mantle and ran with it. When my second brain surgery was not as easy as the first one and left me without being able to speak for three weeks and having to go through occupational, physical, and speech therapy for 7 months as I underwent 30 radiation treatments, I just had to simply ask. He didn’t make me feel broken or not enough or handicapped in any way. He just in his Paul Shultz way made it okay. Made it normative. And didn’t ask me about it again. It was such a gift and I can’t articulate to his three children or his fiancee Jana how much that meant to me. So this week was incredibly hard because I was leading the conference without my co-chair. I told a close friend that I was tired of crying throughout the conference because I felt like I did that during all the breaks. My mom said to me yesterday on the way home, “Narcie, it says how much you loved him.” Indeed. CS Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” So I claim the verse that joy comes in the morning because it’s been a rough year for so many of us. Verses 11 and 12, “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”

I remain ever confident that God is with us every step of the way. It reminds me of the quote from Mother Teresa that says, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish God didn’t trust me so much.” I couldn’t have gotten through this week without the grace, love and strength of God and the prayers and support of our collegiate ministry community. If you’re away from home for the very first time as a freshman starting in Summer B, God can help with the struggle, the loneliness, the lostness and we can help with those feelings too because the only way to live this life is in community. God loves you. God journeys with you in the good times and the bad, in the times we are grieving and in the times we are rejoicing. God is present with us.

I love the new Rend Collective CD and I’ve been listening to it since Gator Wesley’s spring tour. There’s a song called “My Lighthouse” that has these lyrics,

“My Lighthouse”

In my wrestling and in my doubts
In my failures You won’t walk out
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

In the silence, You won’t let go
In my questions, Your truth will hold
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

My Lighthouse, my lighthouse
Shining in the darkness, I will follow You
My Lighthouse, my Lighthouse
I will trust the promise,
You will carry me safe to shore

I won’t fear what tomorrow brings
With each morning I’ll rise and sing
My God’s love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

Fire before us, You’re the brightest
You will lead us through the storms

God’s our lighthouse and wants to give us abundant life. Not just surviving but thriving. I admit that I had written Casting Crowns off with being played out and old school, but I kept hearing this song on the Christian radio stations…
“Joy unspeakable! Faith unsinkable! Love Unstoppable! Anything is possible!”

It’s called “Thrive.” Too often I hear that we’ve just got to get through high school or college or grad school or we have to get our first job or get married or have children or figure out what in the heck to do with our lives, but God doesn’t want us to let life pass us by so that we’re only barely surviving. God wants us to have life. God wants us to thrive. It may take time. It may be challenging. It may not be easy. God wants us to thrive.

Paul would hesitate to sanction my use of contemporary Christian music, but he thrived. He embraced life. My friend, Rob Rynders, wrote a blog soon after Paul’s death and he got this response from a friend of Paul’s, “Perhaps you knew Paul had a bar where he met with his Seven Reverends group and where he had what he saw as a street ministry. Some nights he just hung out and drank his beer. Some nights he listened to heartache and helped people find their way. A year ago he organized a Thanksgiving dinner there for those with no family near. He was loved there and is very missed.” He not only thrived at The University of Iowa Wesley Foundation, he thrived with his children Miles, Hannah and August, he thrived with his fiancee Jana, he thrived in the broad reach and depth of grace he gave to each of us colleagues in United Methodist Collegiate Ministry, and he thrived in the world inviting everyone to know the love of God for each of them. May we all be and live like Paul.

Paul’s kids crafted the funeral with Paul’s words from his sermons and even his CPE application. He kept them all. A recording of the funeral is online here: https://soundcloud.com/paul-shultz-funeral/sets/a-tuesday-funeral You should listen to it.

Two additions since posting the blog. The first is from one of Mary Haggard’s students, Briana Batty.

“Lighthouse” by Briana Batty

The one thing I don’t have
right now
is an answer.
The one thing I want more than anything,
though,
is relief.

I have tried to stay strong, to stay bright,
but I’m the lighthouse
far out in the water,
bashed and battered
by cold storm winds,
left lonely in the waves
with no one to turn the lanterns
back on.
As my bold paint peels away
I’m nothing but a white-flecked pole
lost in a hurricane.

If you can see me flickering here,
pray.
Pray I’m brighter tomorrow,
pray my colors return,
pray I don’t fall headlong into
the stormy dark bay.
And while you pray, I’ll fight
I’ll stand,
I’ll try
because there’s this Man who walks across
the waters to me, climbs
the rickety stairs
in my heart, and promises that
He’s here to be my Light when I grow dark.
He gives me hope I don’t have,
strength I can’t find on my own.

Over the storm I see closing in around me
wings of prayer, white like seagulls, brave like eagles
diving into the wind.
I’m still surrounded by storms on my battered rocks,
oh yes,
but always encircled with arms and wings and warm embraces,
and lit from deep within with Light
brighter than mine.

See me out here?
I shine in the storm,
bright as new.

The second is from Hannah Shultz, Paul’s daughter, she said she’s been reading this poem by Maya Angelou a lot recently.

When Great Trees Fall

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

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Filed under calling, Campus Ministry, Friends, Lighthouse, Live, Maya Angelou, Paul Shultz, Psalm, Thrive

Shelter

community
Colossians 3:12-17

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Our scripture today is one that I give couples to select for a scripture reading for their wedding. It was also used as the middle scripture on Gator Wesley’s Spring Tour this week. I hoped it would resonate with the students as they dealt with one another in the love of Christ in the midst with all of the challenges of tour. One of my favorite lines of this scripture, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” We love each other like family here at Gator Wesley. We fight like brothers and sisters, but we know at the end of the day that we need to bear with one another and forgive each other just as Christ has forgiven us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer asks the questions, “Has fellowship served to make the individual free, strong, and mature, or has it made him weak and dependent? Has it taken him by the hand for a while in order that he may learn again to walk by himself, or has it made him uneasy and unsure?”

I say yes for the community at Gator Wesley. We don’t seek to wave magic wands to solve all of life’s problems, but we seek to come alongside and journey with you wherever you go with the love and grace of Christ that leads us.

I love the poems in the Alive Now devotionals by Roberta Porter. This one is called simply “Gift.”

It is no small gift to be a faith community,
to worship, to witness,
to walk the way of love
in the name and strength of Jesus.
And in community,
When brokenness and sorrow come,
those in need are surrounded
with prayer and compassion.
Our caring goes beyond ourselves,
and the stranger, in many places,
Is touched
by the healing love and grace of God.

In our failures, in our busy forgetting,
we are forgiven, renewed
to continue to be the hands and feet of Christ –
no small task,
no small gift.

I say yes for myself in the community of Gator Wesley that has lifted me up in powerful ways that has allowed me to walk this journey of recovery. That you let me be your leader in the midst was a true gift of grace. I may not have often felt adequate or enough these past few months or past year, but God’s grace has been more than sufficient. These were the verses in The Upper Room Devotional for yesterday the anniversary of my second brain surgery, but I didn’t read it until today, taking a sort of fast from social media because we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary yesterday. Lamentations 3:22-26, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” Amen and amen.

Another poem called “Beyond Ourselves” by Roberta Porter.
We are created for Christ
and for community –
to pray, to care
to show and receive compassion
to witness to all
the wonder of God’s grace.

May we faithfully act in love –
forgiving, restoring,
renewing, serving,
and living
beyond ourselves
in the power of the Sprirt
and to the glory of God.

This is the gift from me to you, to thank you for journeying with me this past year. The song “Brother” by needtobreathe really resonated with me as I traveled on tour this past week. I highly encourage you to get the entire CD because it’s awesome. Because this CD is so recent, this is the only recording of this song on youtube besides the one with just the album cover. This is obviously the acoustic version.

Brother Lyrics
Ramblers in the wilderness we can’t find what we need
Get a little restless from the searching
Get a little worn down in between
Like a bull chasing the matador is the man left to his own schemes
Everybody needs someone beside em’ shining like a lighthouse from the sea

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Face down in the desert now there’s a cage locked around my heart
I found a way to drop the keys where my failures were
Now my hands can’t reach that far
I ain’t made for a rivalry I could never take this world alone
I know that in my weakness I am stronger
It’s your love that brings me home

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Brother let me be your shelter
Brother let me be your shelter
Brother let me be your shelter
Brother let me be your shelter

SO THANK YOU FOR ALL OF THE PRAYERS and letting me call each of you shelters.

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Filed under Bonheoffer, Colossians 3, Community, Grace, Music, Needtobreathe, Roberta Porter poems, Shelter

Resurrection Dust

Did any of y’all watch the movie the Ten Commandments last night? They play it every Saturday night before Easter to capitalize on Jewish and Christian audiences celebrating the Passover and the fulfillment of the Passover, Jesus as the lamb. That is a theory of atonement. At-one-ment, Jesus becoming one of us, Emmanuel. There’s substitutionary, as In Jesus took our place, there’s Jesus as the mediator, where he mediates on our behalf to God, there’s ransom theory, where Christ literally paid our ransom, a la “Jesus Paid It All” and there’s many more, too many to name. But this one is my personal favorite, if you can have favorites of atonement theory without coming across as a seminary nerd. It’s Christus Victor. It’s that Christ conquers death and he is the victor. I remember an old FCA skit with Jesus and the Devil in a boxing ring, well long story short, the devil won the first three rounds, but I can still remember as a teenager the build up as the person representing Jesus stood strong on his feet, and delivered the TKO, Total Knock Out!

We say in the United Methodist Book of Worship these words of grace at funerals, “Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I hold the keys of hell and death. Because I live, you shall live also.”

Enoch and Evy asked me yesterday, “Mommy, what is today?” You see they went to the Maundy Thursday service at Trinity and they went to the Good Friday Tenebrae service at Gator Wesley, so they wondered about what Jesus was doing on Saturday? What do we believe happened on Holy Saturday? Ken Carter, our Bishop, writes, “On this day between the death of Jesus (Good Friday) and his resurrection (Easter) we reflect on his descent into death and hell, and thus the depths of his love for us. The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar writes, “Christ disturbs the absolute loneliness striven for by the sinner; the sinner who wants to be damned, apart from God, finds God again in his loneliness, but God, in the absolute weakness of his love…enters into solidarity with those damning themselves. We resist God. But God comes to us, descends to us, even in the very darkest places in our lives. The witness of the Apostle Paul is true: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We believe our God has the power to knock on the gates of Hell. We believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen?

So what is happening in our text for today?

John 20:1-18 – New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.”

I love that the writers of the New Testament didn’t redact this part, that Jesus first appeared to the women, it shows that Jesus’ wanted his legacy to be serving the marginalized or the least, the last, the love. I love that we’re invited into the story, by the varying reactions. Peter, hesitant, looking at the linens. John, the one whom Jesus loved, seeing and believing. Mary, brushing off and accusing the gardener, then realizing it’s Jesus by the sound of his voice saying her name.

Do we have our eyes open to the Jesus, the Living God, all around us? We are trying to explain the divinity and humanity to our inquisitive 6 year old, Enoch. He’s intrigued because he doesn’t understand him defeating sin and death. We happened to watch Hercules this weekend and we couldn’t have picked anything better because as Hercules seeks to rescue his love interest, in the river of souls, the sisters couldn’t cut his string, because he was a god. I explained to Enoch last night, Jesus was both fully God and fully human. He was greater than any super hero. Enoch ended up singing a song about Jesus being both God and Man, that I partially recorded last night. Fully human, but fully divine, and CONQUERING DEATH, so that death is no more!

My Mom was helping me food clothes the other day and she picked up a pair of Enoch’s underwear and said incredulously, “Is this Jesus!!!??” “No,” I said. “It’s Thor.” But she’s getting to my point. Are you seeing Jesus in the world around you?

Are we seeing Jesus in our friends, in our roommates, our parents, the stranger, the other, in the lady behind the cash register? Who are you breaking through the darkness to shine the light and love of Christ Jesus our Lord? We sing “Follow You into the homes of the broken,” but do we actually mean it?

Thomas has prayed several times about the pollen and I think that’s totally appropriate for us to pray for that which is affecting us right here and now. Several years ago I did a sermon on “resurrection dust.” Giving thanks for the yellow pollen/resurrection dust bringing new life, creating all things new, life bursting forth, and on the pollen days where I can no longer look through my windshield without a little windshield wiper fluid, I pause and give thanks because we know a savior that’s making all things new indeed. We know a savior who is RISEN! Do we trust God to sprinkle his resurrection dust to guide our feet and give us the words to say? Do we believe his grace is enough to supply our every need?

We need to trust in the Risen Christ. We need to build our hope on nothing less, with exams, final papers, and the dreaded group projects, that the One that has gone before us and conquered death, will surely be faithful now at this critical point in the semester. We need to see Jesus in the world around us, his resurrection dust everywhere, and be the lights of love and grace in the world.

I heard this song earlier in the week, “Stories” by Bellarive and I think it’s appropriate on this Easter Sunday.

Here are stories of a man who walked on water
There are stories of a man who washes all our shame away
And the rumors in the air say His words bring freedom
And I believe it
For my eyes have seen the King

There are stories of a man who dines with angels
Could Heaven come down to make room for the least of these
Well, the rumors in the air say He is the remedy
And I believe it
For my eyes have seen the King
Yes, I believe it
For my eyes have seen the King

We’re singing, Alleluia, we sing
For a new day is dawning
Alleluia, we sing
For redemption is here
And Alleluia, we sing
For a new day is dawning
Alleluia, we sing
For our eyes have seen the King

There are stories of a man who saves the nations
They’ve been echoing through time to meet us here today
Well, His promises are true, they pull us through the darkness
And I believe it
For my eyes have seen the King
Yes, I believe it
For my eyes have seen the King
They have seen You

Holy Spirit, come
Descend on Your people
Your fire’s in our hearts
It’s all we’ll ever need
For we know, we know, we know that You’re alive
So come and speak here
Our ears are open now

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Filed under Bellarive, Death, Easter, Enoch, Hercules, Pollen, Resurrection

Deep Cries Out – Lent 5

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPsalm 130
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

John 11:1-45
11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

I thought about opening with something from The Walking Dead or World War Z about zombies or mummies because Lazarus comes out of the tomb wrapped as if he were a mummy, but I could not find one not gross and then you would remember that I played a clip from The Walking Dead instead of the sermon.
In the psalm text today, the voice waits for the Lord and cries out for the Lord, just like Mary and Martha hope that God answers their cries for their brother’s healing.

Sometimes we read these stories and think that’s just it, they’re mere stories. About characters, as are our tv shows or movies, not real people. I find myself talking about characters on tv shows like they’re real people. Blah Blah does this, feels this, she wouldn’t do that, he would definitely do that. There really was a Lazarus and a Mary and Martha, and there was this man called Jesus. He was fully human and fully divine. Meaning the God part of him could see the larger picture, but the fully human part of him, felt like we do, with real emotions. Jesus was not a drone or a robot. He was a living, breathing human being with moments of clarity and sureness of purpose as well as moments of doubt and wrestling. You read about his calmness in the face of his best friend being sick. Much is debated about whether he knew that Lazarus would die at the outset of our pericope today. It doesn’t say what he stayed two days longer for and it doesn’t say when he actually knew that Lazarus had died, but obviously he tells the disciples, who think that Lazarus’ just sleeping. In verses 14 and 15, “14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

And then we have a side conversation that the disciples had with one another saying the Jews were already riled up against you and if you go back there they’ll probably stone you, and Thomas answering in verse 16, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Let us go, that we die with him???!!! We all know the story has a happy ending, but if one of my brothers died, I would be devastated. And I would want a miracle. Knowing me, I would demand it! I would fight for it. Because that’s what big sisters do. We may torture them when they are younger, but no one outside of us can mess with them and if there’s a way to prevent them pain, I will certainly do whatever it takes. That’s basically what Martha does, but Jesus seems to be detached somewhat from the situation until Mary runs out to him weeping. Jesus fell apart at seeing Lazarus’ tomb. By the way, a bit of Bible trivia, this is the shortest verse in the Bible, verse 35, “Jesus wept.” Seeing Mary’s grief and her tears, made Jesus face his own grief. Jesus cries along with us. Jesus cries for the hurting in our world. Jesus cries when we each face our own particular “valleys of shadows of death.” We may not know we need a savior who feels, but we do. We may not comprehend how important it is to have a God that is both indeed part of the triune God and is God with us, Emmanuel, fully living breathing humanity, but we do.

I appreciate in verses 41 and 42, “So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” He’s modeling what we need to do. Come to God with our requests because God already knows our prayers and petitions. God hears. God answers. There’s a beauty in the prayers we actually articulate and those that the Spirit articulates as the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, when we cry out. God always hear you. You may not get the answer you seek or you don’t always see the miracle that you thought you would, but God is present with you every step of the way.

Through our Lenten journey as we make our way to the cross, we celebrate the defeating of death and we claim the words in verses 25 and 26, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” But may we not forget that it wasn’t easy for Jesus, he didn’t just snap his fingers and go to a place of acceptance. He had his own Garden of Gethsemane. We don’t go straight to acceptance either. We have to journey through all of the stages of grief. There’s real grief with a loss of a loved one and trite answers like “it happened for a reason” or “God needed another angel in heaven” bring little comfort. We can celebrate that “all things work together for good for those that love God,” but God doesn’t cause a girl to be sexually assaulted, a young father to be diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, or an accidental drowning. There’s a tension, a dance that comes through questions of theodicy and we sometimes wonder if God can work good. It’s okay to question God. It’s okay to yell at God. Aren’t we glad that we love a savior who knows, intimately, what it means to be human? To feel the full weight of the brokenness of our world?

So I’ll leave you with these words that mean a great deal to me and basically encapsulate what I’m getting at,

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless Babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save

Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory
Sins curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a lifes first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

I will stand, I will stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground, all other ground
Is sinking sand, is sinking sand
So I stand

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Filed under Emotion, God, Grief, Jesus, Lazarus, Lent