A powerful, thought-provoking insight....

Give me a well-trained tongue that has been borne out of silent listening in the sanctuary of my heart.

~ sevensacredpauses by Macrina Wiederkehr

Sunday, August 25, 2013

"Be Not Afraid"

What follows is the sermon I offered tonight at a Vespers Service at Arbor Terrace-Decatur.  I thought there might be a few folks out there who would gain something from this -- I gained from the writing of it...

"Be Not Afraid"
Sermon for Arbor Terrace – Decatur
Vespers: August 25, 2013

Isaiah 41:8-10

But you, Israel, my servant,
            Jacob, whom I have chosen,
            the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
You whom I took from the ends of the earth,
            and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, "You are my servant,
            I have chosen you and not cast you off";
do not fear, for I am with you,
            do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
            I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

Lamentations 3:55-58

I called on your name, O Lord,
            from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, "Do not close your ear
            to my cry for help, but give me relief!"
You came near when I called on you;
            you said, "Do not fear!"
You have taken up my cause, O Lord,
            you have redeemed my life.

Romans 8:12-17

 12So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

             Depending on whether you watch the news or not, you may have heard of Antoinette Tuff.  Ms. Tuff is the school bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur.  This past Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Tuff stepped beyond her fear and into her reliance on God's promises.  This past Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Tuff shared her faith, her story, her courage with a young man determined to kill.

            Normally, Antoinette Tuff does not sit where she was sitting that afternoon.  She was relieving the School Secretary. Ms. Tuff came face to face with the young man who had managed to come into the School with the intent of killing adults and children – over 800 individuals.  Ms. Tuff admits that the first thing she did was begin praying for him. 

            In an interview with Channel Two News, Ms. Tuff shares that she remembered her pastor teaching the congregation about "anchoring in the Lord" when listening and talking with anyone in a crisis.  So, that's exactly what Antoinette Tuff did.  She began by praying for him and herself and for the students and teachers in that building and for the police outside.  She encouraged the young man to talk about what he was thinking, about why he was thinking it.  By listening, she opened a door to salvation for him – and for the all of the children and teachers in that building.

            In her conversation with this young man, Antoinette Tuff reflected on her own losses and difficulties.  In doing so, she allowed her life, her authenticity to inform her compassion in this frightful, fearful situation. 

            At one point, in response to the young man saying that he didn't have anyone who loved him, Ms. Tuff assured him that even as she did not "know" him, she did, indeed, love him.  Antoinette Tuff expressed Christ's love to this hurting, broken young man.  In doing so, he was able to begin believing that the situation could change, that the outcome could be something different than what he had believed when he arrived. 

            In her own words, Ms. Tuff shared that it "wasn't nobody but God;" that "through His grace and mercy" she kept it together.  Because of Antoinette Tuff's ability to call upon her faith, upon God's grace and mercy, to keep it together, in her position as front line defense, over 800 children and adults were kept from harm and a young man – broken and fearful --  was kept from a sure death. 

            Be not afraid.

            In our text from Isaiah, Yahweh is now speaking comfort and reassurance to the exiles – after 150 years of fearful, distraught silence and degradation!  Yahweh reminds them that He has chosen them and has not cast them off.   Yahweh makes several powerful promises:

            Do not fear – I am with you.
            Do not be afraid – I am your God.
            I will strengthen you.
            I will help you.
            I will uphold you.

One of my favorite hymns is Standing on the Promises, especially the second and last verses:


Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.


Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
List’ning every moment to the Spirit’s call,
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

            This is what Antoinette Tuff did.  She stood upon the promises of God.  God was there.  Where in our lives are we truly, remarkably standing upon the promises of God?  Each and every day there are occasions to see this, to experience the strength, the hope, the promises of God.  We have to stay alert.  We have to "listen every moment to the Spirit's call."

            The circumstances of the Spirit's call in each of our lives most likely will never be as dramatic and newsworthy as Ms. Tuff's.  However, those circumstances will most likely be as spiritually significant to us and to those we encounter as what happened in the School Front Office.  A testimony, a listening heart, a wounded soul -- how often do we encounter and offer that combination?

            Do not fear, for I am with you.

            Lamentations is a hymn-book for the Israelites.  Our text comes straight from a version of "Standing on the Promises" you might say. 

55I called on your name, O Lord,
            from the depths of the pit;
56you heard my plea, "Do not close your ear
            to my cry for help, but give me relief!"
57You came near when I called on you;
            you said, "Do not fear!"
58You have taken up my cause, O Lord,
            you have redeemed my life.

            When we are in our fearful places, do we call upon God's name? When we hear the Spirit's call and we are in a crisis, do we trust that God is listening?

            Antoinette Tuff trusted, she had faith that God was in that room; she had faith that God was listening, and that God would give her the words to share with this young man.  "58You have taken up my cause, O Lord, you have redeemed my life."

            In our most worrisome, frightened moments, we can trust, we can have faith that God is present, that God hears our cries, that God will take up our cause, that God will redeem our lives.

            How?  How do we know that?  How can we have that trust, that faith?

            We do this, we know this because through Christ, we are alive.  Through Christ, we have received a spirit of adoption – not a spirit of slavery, of fear.  As Paul said to the Romans, "15bWhen we cry 'Abba! Father!,' 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…"

            He is ours and we are His.  Through this new relationship, this new covenant, we are promised that we are never alone, that we are working toward the inbreaking of a glorious world – one of love and compassion and understanding, full of grace and mercy.

            Where in your life will you pray, listen, share, and be the living Word of God for someone who is in need of God's grace and mercy?

            In the words of Antoinette Tuff, there "wasn't nobody but God;" that "through His grace and mercy" she kept it together.

            We are not alone.  God is with us.

            Be not afraid!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dawning Realizations, Lessons in Gentleness

All along the journeys of my lifetime, there have been times when I have had a remarkable perception of exactly what just happened.  You know, that face palm thing, the holy 2x4, the dawning of a realization that shocks the system. 

The last two weeks have seen a series of those realizations hit me square between the eyes, the shoulderblades -- you get the idea.  What happens when that happens is important!  Sometimes, I act on the new realization (not always a good idea), sometimes I reflect on that new "aha" (most of the time a good idea), and sometimes -- just sometimes -- I choose to ignore the realization (never a real good idea).

When I'm waiting (oh so impatiently) for things, people, opportunities to fall into place, for the ability to "see" the next thing, if I ignore a realization of what's gone before, of what's happening now, I miss an important lesson, an opportunity to learn about myself and those around me.  However, sometimes, the realization that hits me so square between the eyes is a painful one, even perhaps a humiliating one. 

As that realization hits home -- that painful or especially humiliating one -- the lesson before me to learn is one of gentleness.  I have a very hard time with that.  Being gentle with myself, my faults (many), my failures (often) does not come naturally to me.

I have help with these lessons.  My husband and family.  My therapist.  My friends.  My faith.

My husband and family love me constantly.  Yes, they get mad at me, disappointed in me, want to get away from me and my craziness at times -- but love me, they do.  There is a wonderful safety net in that.  If I have to go hole up in the bedroom with my journal, they'll let me.  This is good.  If hugs are needed and snuggles, they're there right beside me.  I am so fortunate.

My therapist.  Need I say more?

My friends.  My friends give me grief.  Push back is the newest buzz word/phrase.  My friends push back at my self-pity, at my self-doubts, at my self-anger and frustration.  They see a "me" that's different than the one I usually experience.  Friends give me balance.

My faith?  Well, my faith sustains me.  My faith is simple.  I know I am not alone.  I am surrounded at all times and in all places and circumstances by the love of a Creating Force.  Period.  That Creating Force is a part of me, you, my family, my friends, the entire world.

In my opinion, in my faith, that Creating Force is what reveals those realizations to me in the first place.  So, it makes sense that the beautiful strength, gentle strength of that Creating Force, revealed in my family, my friends, my therapist, my faith will see me through.  It makes sense that what is revealed by that Creating Force will help me grow more and more into the soul, the spirit I am meant to be.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Waiting to Exhale

It's like I'm holding my breath (not physically), waiting to see how certain things in my life are going to fall into place.  I believe that's fairly normal. 

However, I also sense that it is not productive.  I mean productive in a sense of proactive.  Yes, I believe things that are in the pike for me fall into place after a lot of work on my part, but also when it is the right time.  My problem has always been waiting for that right time. 

I want to charge ahead and get to doing what I believe I am supposed to be doing with my life NOW.

We live in a society of cliques and clubs and communities.  I separated those for a reason.  Cliques are prone to shaming/blaming/excluding.  Clubs are prone to excluding.  Communities are there for everyone else.  Communities are the workhorses of society.  Those that belong to Communities belong because of their brokenness, their "unfit" nature to belong to either a Club or a Clique.  Broken folks are some of the most hard working people on the face of this Earth. 

I'm a broken folk.  You're a broken folk.  We are all broken folk.  However, some of us are more willing to see that within ourselves. 

Now, what does that have to do with my holding my breath, with my impatience to get on with things?  Well, it's a bit of a rant about how my getting on with things right now is in the control of a Club. 

Am I saying that I am being held back from doing what I am called to do because of a Club?  Yes AND no.  The particular Club I am referring to is one to which I actually belong.  This Club has its expectations for preparation.  I understand that.  However, I realize how all of this fits together into one giant exercise for me in submission.

Yep.  Submission.  I truly can't stand that word -- which is another clue.  Submission is the area in my life where I definitely have growing edges.  (Laughing here.)  Definitely.  Can I say that again?  Definitely.  Yet, growing edges are great! Growing edges are exactly that: opportunities to recognize where I need to work on something and THEN work on it. 

So, this Club, in its exclusionary sort of language, is actually pushing me to do the work I need to do.  I have one word for that:  UFDAH!  No, it is not an acronym for anything.  Ufdah is a Norwegian word of emotional outburst!  Great word.

In the midst of my growth toward better submission, I am also carrying out the ministry to which God has so definitely called me.  Submission makes me a better minister.  Period.  Funny that.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What a Journey -- What a Life

So, my last post had to do with pain and my dawning awareness that chronic pain takes an alarming toll on one's Spirit.  I am fortunate in that the pain has abated.  My toe apparently is not broken. I am still taking it easy with it.  No dancing for a couple more weeks to be safe.  The surgery sites on my face are healing.

These are good things, good realizations to have.  The time I've spent resting has been good for me physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  However, the time spent quietly listening to myself (self-talk as well as just thinkin') and to God has allowed some interesting thoughts to gel. 

I know I have buttons which I allow others to push.  Buttons installed a very long time ago.  Buttons which bring out fear, hopelessness, anger, distrust, disgust.  What I have noticed over the last week, however, is that I am getting better about realizing what's happening, feeling the reaction start.  Recently, I've been able to stop myself, to keep my mouth shut instead of making some asinine remark. 

There's a lot of ancient history I need to look at to even better understand why I am the way I am and how I need to go about changing, taking control of those buttons -- perhaps even uninstalling them eventually.  An especially wonderful aspect to all of this though is that in seeing my buttons, recognizing my reactionary way of dealing with them, I also am able to acknowledge my progress, acknowledge the fact that I function very well in community, in society, in my family.  I say this because when all is said and done, my survival, my current state of health and well being is fairly surprising! 

The fact of my ability to pat myself on the back, to acknowledge how well I am, is something that I've always had difficulty doing.  So from that whole "third eye" perspective thing -- I'm not worried.  Not being worried is a big thing.  I'm not fearful of what I need to look at -- a new sensibility -- a good thing.  I'm curious about myself, about where I've been and where I'm going.

We'll see.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Spiritual Struggle of Pain

I am struggling with pain today. 

Of all things to happen, while kicking a soccer ball for our dog Scooter, I managed to miss the ball and kick (VERY HARD) an exposed brick.  I broke my big toe!  Add to that the numbing agent wearing off from the surgery I had today to remove a basal cell carcinoma from my nose.

What I have been gifted in this though is a better understanding of how constant, chronic pain affects one's spirituality.  I realize that a lot of folks experience me as steadfast in my faith, and this might come as a surprise -- I was more worried about my brush with skin cancer than I admitted to very many people.  Yes, I prayed for strength and courage; I prayed that the surgeon would be skillful (and he was); I prayed that the surgery would not reveal any deeper growth (and it did not).  So, I am grateful to God for these things.

Yet...yet as bearable as my pain is, it reminds me of other times in my life when I have endured much greater pain with much less grace.  When I cried out to God for relief and found none.  When I was angry with God for not making it better NOW! 

This pain is teaching me compassion and understanding.  This pain will keep me focused on God.  That sounds a bit convoluted to me; however, it's true in a sense.  If I keep focused on what God is showing me, deep in my heart, through this pain, I will learn something important.  I will learn something important to me, my journey, and perhaps something I can share.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Struggling with Self

Experiencing a time of struggling with what I want to do versus what God apparently wants me to do leaves me pulled in two directions.  The whole experience is very disruptive to any sustained spiritual peace.  Yet, spiritual peace is overrated actually.  In my experience, I have grown more deeply and well during times of wrestling, times of disruption -- as uncomfortable as those times are. 

This experience leads me to consider my time sitting with God.  From all accounts, God seems to be asking me for some uninterrupted time with my soul.  I'm considering how best to manage my time so that God gets that uninterrupted time and I don't lose too much sleep.  Of course, perhaps that is part of the cost of admission to God's uninterrupted time.

I ponder the religious vocationals.  The offices have them up at 2am and again at 4am and on it goes.  The Rule of Benedict structures our lives around prayer; yet balances the way our relationship with God is viewed.  Whether one's activity is one's work, one's leisure, or one's prayer -- all is done with glory for God. 

So, how might I better structure my time, balanced and with glory for God, so that my peace is productive?  Perhaps during my uninterrupted time that God seems to be arranging, God will reveal some ideas!

More later...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Time to Sit with God

While sitting with my spiritual friend this afternoon, he said that he felt it was time for me to sit with God for a while.  You see, I find myself at a confluence of thought, emotion, spiritual questing, and physical tiredness.

A confluence is a meeting of two or more flowing water sources -- at least in my experience that's what it is.  My use of that word is very deliberate.  In my experience of my own thought processes, the way my emotions work, the spiritual journey I've been on, and the way my body responds to stress, it's all flowing.  I have been learning to go with the flow of my life rather than pushing the river.  So, you can tell, I'm all over the water metaphors!

The undercurrents of a confluence can be very strong, confusing -- misdirecting -- exhausting.  I've been struggling with having a divided heart and mind about my relationship with God and how I accomplish God's work given to me in the world.  Apparently, it is time for me to sit with God.

Now, when I sit with God, when my mind and heart and soul are full, I don't converse with God.  I simply sit and listen.  Admittedly, I do begin my time sitting with a prayer of thanksgiving, of submission, of opening my heart to hear.  Then...I listen.

It's amazing what I hear.  The simplest things become rich, music-like.  The rustling of tree leaves, the honk of a goose, the crunch on pavement of someone walking, the smell of whatever is in the air at a given moment, the feel of the chair, bench, ground that I'm sitting on -- all of these sensory experiences wrap me and invite me to drop deeper into an experience of God's presence than I normally allow. 

That's when the silence envelopes me.  A silence that is thick and sweet.  A silence that is permeated by love, pure love, indescribable in its acceptance and unconditional essence.  The love of the universe.  In this spot, I hear, I receive -- what I can seldom verbalize, yet when I return to the world, things are clearer, struggling is gone, acceptance and submission are possible and a joy, a sublime joy permeates my heart and my spirit.  Answers to my questions may or may not be present, may or may not have risen to the top of my consciousness, but joy is there.

Gratitude.  Grace.  Amen and Amen.