Trinity Sunday

Ineffable. That’s the best word I know to try and put words to the presence or identity or relationship of God to God’s people. “Ineffable” means that words just won’t do, that what one is trying to describe is beyond words.  Ineffable seems like a strange way to define God, but all our attempts to describe Her fall utterly short of the holy mystery.  Even the name “God” is just more of a description. I like the description “Divine Other” instead: He/She is something so much bigger and “other” than us, so holy and divine, we can’t even capture it in words.

In our scripture reading, we heard Nicodemus asking in wonder how one could be “born again?” Jesus had stumped him, and didn’t offer much help as Jesus basically said, “You can’t understand the things of this world; how can you understand the Holy?”

The concept of the Holy Trinity is also just another attempt to describe God. It’s a completely  human construction that has caused divisions and arguments within the church for as long as we have attempted to find words to express our common belief in God as Christians. But every first Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate “Holy Trinity Sunday.” It is the only Sunday of the Liturgical year that focuses on doctrine.  Because remember — the Trinity is doctrine; it isn’t a scriptural truth — it is derived from scripture. It is human’s best attempt to describe something ineffable, remember?

In my recent trip to Greece I took immense joy in studying the icons at the monasteries and Basilicas found in every city and village and upon every island we visited. On the beautiful island of Hydra, I found a little Trinity icon (see below) tucked away in a dark corner. I looked closely and noticed that it was entitled “The Hospitality of Abraham.”  Many times I’ve seen the Trinity pictured at Abraham’s table; but this was the only one I had noticed that had Abraham and Sarah in the picture.

“The Hospitality of Abraham” Icon, Ecclesiastical Museum of the Monastery of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Hydra Island, Greece

Take a close look at this icon. Do you notice that the three strangers who sought hospitality from Abraham are seated at the table, in the shape of a triangle. They are all looking to each other.  But Abe and Sarah are on the outside of that triangle, just peeking in! It’s as if they are trying to get a glimpse of this holy gathering.

As interesting as this icon is to me, I don’t expect it clears things up for you at all about the Holy Trinity (and just for your reference, every time I say “Holy Trinity” I sing it at the top of my lungs in an operatic voice; either that or I whisper it). So since we’ve agreed that God is ineffable, and that the Holy Trinity is confusing, let me put it to you this way: the Trinity is the way that humankind has tried to “sum up” all the ways that God has revealed Godself to us — the ways that we come to know and experience the “Divine Other.”

And it’s like this:

Creator/Father/YHWH — we learn about God the Creator as we interact with creation and come to understand some of the Holy Mystery through the patterns and re-creating life we see in nature. We recognize how richly God has provided for us through the cycles of the seasons. We witness inconceivable beauty from the tops of the mountains and even in the most barren places of the Great Plains. God revealed Godself as YHWH in the Hebrew Scriptures, when humankind received the law and the Torah, and learned how to be in Covenant with the Divine Other. This YHWH was powerful and awe-inspiring and the glory shekinah; distant, dangerous, and so Holy one could not even look upon God.

Redeemer/Incarnation/Jesus — we learn about the Divine Other very personally through “The Word made flesh.” Emmanuel “God with us”! Jesus was a real human, flesh and bone that we could see and listen to and touch and walk alongside and reach out to grasp the garment of. Jesus was the one whose very being was Divine and his life and teachings modeled to us the way we are to love each other. Jesus taught us that yes YHWH gave us the word, but when we live the word out it looks like a humble, loving healer, who had no earthly possessions and spent his time building relationships and reaching out to bring the outcasts back into community. And when his death was imminent he gave his students a shocking charge: I’ve redeemed you; now go and do likewise for others.”

Sustainer/Holy Spirit/Advocate— we learn about God the Holy Spirit through every movement and interaction and feeling we experience. God the Spirit is our direct link to the Divine Other, communicating for us even when we don’t have words to express our pain. Spirit is the very breath Creator breathed into us and we are reminded of it each time we take a long, deep breath and fill our lungs with the life-giving mixture of air that Creator provides. Spirit is the goosebumps and warm and cozy feelings we receive as well as the incredible sense that we are not alone. It is the Love that binds us together in unity when we are singing hymns or speaking liturgy, gathered together in prayer, sitting in silence together. God the Holy Spirit surrounds us and changes the everyday ordinary into the sacred.

The three persons of the Trinity — Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer — are how we know and relate to God. As Christians we think Jesus is the part of the trinity we understand the best, but it is the part where we fall the shortest. We are called to be the presence of God to others by modeling the love of Emmanuel. But there’s a lot of hurting and broken people out there who are just waiting for Jesus to look them in the eyes and ask, “Are you okay?” Guess what? That’s YOU who needs to be looking people in the eyes so that you can see Jesus in them and you can be Jesus to them.

Sunday was not only Holy Trinity, it was also the day before Memorial Day. In honor of this, Elder Bob Gaskins felt compelled to write about how he came to know and understand God through three special men in his life. They were, to Bob, the presence of Jesus. They lived out the charge to “Go and do likewise.” I share his words with you to remind you that it is up to us to be the resurrected Body of Christ and the very presence of the Holy in this world. Though God is ineffable, these words do a pretty good job of defining what it means to “Go and do likewise.”  Thank you so much for sharing these reflections with us, Bob:

Christian father-warrior-saints remembered on Memorial Day

The Spirit moved me to share the following testimony yesterday with Paula regarding three fathers who served their country during wartime and also had a significant impact on my life. She asked me to share this testimony with you today.

As Memorial Day approaches this coming Monday, I am so thankful for the roles which three fathers played in my evolution as a born-again Christian. For all three of these men, their Christian faith played a key role in their lives and their ability to serve their country in combat when it counted most.

The first is my father, Warden Gaskins, who was raised Methodist in North Carolina and enlisted in the submarine service the day after Pearl Harbor. He served as an officer on attack submarines in the western and northern Pacific for the entire duration of WWII, earning the bronze star for actions taken during combat patrols. Dad’s Christian faith was a bedrock in his entire life, sustaining him through the death of his father at age 12 and through the seemingly endless years of WWII. He was very involved in our local Methodist church while I was growing up, which provided the initial foundation for my own early Christian faith. This same faith sustained and nourished Dad as he cared for my mother who had Parkinson’s disease for many years later in life, and then after her passing, as he lived out the remainder of his life without her.

The second is my ex-father in law, Bill Mason, whom I grew extremely close to during my marriage to my son Billy’s mom. Bill served as a soldier in the 10th Mountain Division during WWII in Europe. He fought in the battles for Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere in early 1945 that proved pivotal to the Allied troops’ ability to defeat of Nazi Germany later that same year. Bill was one of the most modest and caring individuals whom I have every known, and his solid and unwavering Christian faith was his foundation for a life of amazing accomplishment and contribution to others. When I asked him what was most important in his ability to keep his head calm through the savagery of hand-to-hand combat in war, and through other extremely challenging life experiences, Bill’s answer was his absolute faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. I was so very honored and humbled to be asked to deliver one of the eulogies at Bill’s memorial service six years ago when he left us to be with Jesus.

The third is my deceased wife Joanie’s father, Paul Riley, who I never met, as he was killed in combat in Vietnam in 1967 when Joanie was 11 years old. Paul Riley grew up in extreme poverty in Texas and enlisted in the army upon graduation from high school in 1947. He served multiple combat tours in Korea and Vietnam as an infantry sergeant, and was highly decorated for battlefield bravery in both wars, earning several bronze stars, purple hearts and other commendations. Additionally, three months prior to his death during his second Vietnam deployment, he was awarded the silver star which is our country’s third highest medal for combat gallantry, for his actions in which he single-handedly destroyed enemy combatants and pulled his comrades to safety in the midst of heavy enemy fire, while totally ignoring his own safety. Paul had a very small, well-worn Bible that he always carried in his rucksack during combat missions. He was a Christian man who believed that he was serving God as a soldier by protecting his country and his family from evil. He lived by the words of Jesus inscribed in John 15:13 which are: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” At a reunion of his surviving comrades from Vietnam that we attended six years ago, they each recounted countless times when he put the words of his faith into action by saving lives on the battlefield. He was a quiet man with immense strength of character, and he was their rock and their calm in the constant storm of jungle warfare. They could clearly see and feel God’s love for them through Paul’s actions. After that reunion, I gave Joanie a pendant inscribed with the words “John 15:13” as a daily memory of her father’s everyday commitment to Christ’s words. After Paul’s death in 1967, the only thing which returned from the battlefield to his family besides his identification dog-tags was his little Bible which had somehow survived the massive land mine explosion targeted for him by the Vietcong.

I believe that all three of these men are saints in their own way and are now living in resurrected glory with Jesus. They each demonstrated Christ’s Word through their actions. In other words, they “walked the talk”. And, I am eternally thankful that each was placed in my life by God to provide guidance for my own journey to my born-again Faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Remembering Our Saints: Rev. Dr. Bob Bielenberg

Witness to the Resurrection

I don’t know if there is any better description of what we are gathered here to do today than “Witness to the Resurrection.” It is, of course, what our Presbyterian Book of Common Worship calls a service upon the death of a saint. Today especially, we are here to worship God as we celebrate being the witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ for a saint who lived his life as a Witness to the Resurrection.

I am sure the many other pastors here would agree with me when I say that it is an immense honor and a holy, treasured duty to serve as a “Witness to the Resurrection” for our beloved congregation members, family members, friends, and even unknown community members. I’m certain that over his over 60 years as an ordained clergy, Bob officiated lovingly at countless such services. Indeed, Donna shared this letter that Bob wrote upon his anniversary in 2012, which speaks to this holy task:

Whenever I was asked to officiate at a funeral or memorial service, I would ask if the person to be remembered had a favorite poem or verse, perhaps fastened to the refrigerator or tucked away in their Bible.  such a saved verse or quote often revealed something of the one who kept it, and gave me an insight into what was important in that person’s life and which was worth sharing in that service in which he or she was remembered by friends and family.

I have two such special momentos in my home.

One is a plaque with just a single word carved on it which was made and given to us one Christmas by a very good friend of ours many years ago.  It says simply “Faithful.”  I don’t know what our friend had in mind when he made the plaque and presented it to us, but “Faithful” is a word that has very special meaning to me, and for many years that plaque has had a prominent place in the very center of the mantel over our fireplace.

It is not as important that we be successful in life but that we be faithful.  In my life I have felt it important to be faithful to God, faithful to his plan or purpose for my life, faithful to my family, and faithful to those whom I have been called upon to serve.

Thanks to a friend, that word, that thought, has had a prominent place in our home and in my life.

The other momento is a small glass plaque that hangs in our kitchen window directly over the kitchen sink, and we see it each time we wash the dishes or get a drink of water, or look out over our beautiful view of the mountains.  And on that small plaque is engraved the words, “God has allowed us to share something beautiful together.”

I’m writing this on our 63rd Anniversary.  When Donna and I think of our lives together, truly God has allowed us to share something beautiful together.  And for this, we are both most grateful.

Even in his retirement — which I should write, “retirement,” as no true servant of Christ ever retires until the completion of their baptism at the moment of death — Bob lived out his faith in such a peaceful, joyful way, that he was still teaching and guiding as his heart stopped beating and he took his last breath. It was the first day of this new year, and I am certain I heard the earth and heavens tremble with the echo of “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

I was surprised and touched to find out that Donna and Bob had left the scripture selection to me. I thought that certainly, after so many years in the pulpit and after serving so many families at the death of loved ones , certainly Bob had chosen the scriptures to comfort his family and beloved community.

And I wrestled with this. I felt a little incompetent to choose the scriptures, and I struggled with what would best comfort all of you in your grief even as we proclaim celebration. But as I walked the ruins of Corinth a couple of weeks ago (remembering all the travels Bob and Donna ventured on) and I sat in a cave on the island of Patmos, I relinquished the struggle and began to listen.

And do you know what I heard?  Bob’s marvelous, soothing voice, telling me the stories of a life in ministry, carefully recounting the difficult years when our nation struggled with the growth pains of the Civil Rights movement, and detailing the struggle even in our own Presbyterian Church for the Ordination of Women. He always spoke of love for his people through these struggles, understanding that when the Holy Spirit is shaking things up, it can be difficult to do things in a new way.

I heard his eloquent words explaining the gift of understanding God in light of science, and remembered countless times when he was able to lift out encouraging scriptures, phrases from great theologians, and quotes from our beautiful Book of Confessions to help explain why we do things, and how we, as a people of God, have come to read and understand scripture.

And through all of it, of course his words echoed with love.

Of course! He’s still teaching!

Of course this encouraging old saint, with that glint in his eyes (that got Bud in trouble when it was time for the church to be built) and that warm and welcoming smile, was beaming as it all became clear: through all the years of his teaching and leading and counseling and encouraging, the one thing that was consistent through every age and struggle was LOVE.  Even when we look at scripture critically; even when we study and doubt and challenge the word of God, it is difficult to distill this message down to anything more than how Jesus summed it all up:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Jesus continues:

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 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” (selections from John 15, NRSV).

The Rev. Dr. Bob Bielenberg was most certainly a friend of God. He lived out Jesus’ commandment through his immense love for Donna and his family, for his love and devotion to congregations across the globe, through bridging relationships with strangers in every place he traveled.

I received a gift from Donna when I returned from my recent travels to Greece. I found a stack of Bob’s sermons, with his notes scribbled in the margins and the dates on the tops of the scripts for when he had preached them. And I recognized that now, even in his death, Bob is still teaching us. So we will bear witness to the Resurrection today by sharing Bob’s words on this very subject – the resurrection, and why, despite all the little things we can quibble over about scripture and our religion, the one things we count as necessary for faith is to proclaim and live into the resurrection of Jesus.  So I leave you this morning with his own words, culled from several sermons stretching from as early as 1960 to 2016:

God has broken into human life and interrupted it in an unexpected but a glorious way. The Resurrection was the proof of it. . . That which makes life meaningful and exciting is that God constantly breaks in upon human life in his own way, which is not our way.

The important fact of the Resurrection is not that we will live forever but that God lives, and that he has not forsaken us, nor will he ever forsake us. It is of this certainty that Paul spoke in his letter to the romans:

“I am convinced,” Paul said, “That neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This is our certainty; and it is greater than the sum total of all our doubts.

Friends, Bob’s conclusion here is why we can be so assured of our task for today, which is – amidst our doubts and fears and sense of grief and loss – we are here to bear witness to the Resurrection. May it be true in our every word, thought, and deed, and may we bear this to the world in love.

Peace in Christ,

Rev. Paula

Deep & Wide – Let This Cup Pass From Me

Sunday, March 25 was our last Lenten Sunday, which is celebrated as Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It kicks off our Holy Week, which culminates in the holiest of days, Resurrection Sunday (Easter — it’s really called Resurrection Sunday).

Since I’ve been serving in a pulpit, I have chosen instead to lead the congregation through what has been called Palm/Passion Sunday, as the Passion Narrative has traditionally only been read at Holy Week services and in our over-scheduled, busy culture, not many people make time for Holy Week services.  So even those who come every Sunday of the year would never hear the Passion Narrative if they missed Holy Week.

Our service Sunday began with a short lesson for our children about parades, specifically the ones happening in Jerusalem. Here I quote from some excellent scholarship that explains it much better:

Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30 … One was a  peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class …

On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’s crucifixion.

Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology … it was the standard practice of the Roman governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals … to be in the city in case there was trouble … The mission of the troops with Pilate was to reinforce the Roman garrison permanently stationed in the Fortress Antonia, overlooking the Jewish Temple and its courts …

Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful. Pilate’s procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology. According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God … For Rome’s Jewish subjects, Pilate’s procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology.

We return to the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem … As Mark tells the story in 11:1-11, it is a prearranged ‘counterprocession’ … The meaning of the demonstration is clear, for it uses symbolism from the prophet Zechariah in the Jewish Bible. According to Zechariah, a king would be coming to Jerusalem (Zion), ‘humble, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (9:9). In Mark, the reference to Zechariah is implicit. Matthew, when he treats Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, makes the connection explicit by quoting the passage: ‘Tell the daughter of Zion: look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (Matt. 21:5, quoting Zech. 9:9). The rest of the Zechariah passage details what kind of king he will be: ‘He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations’ (9:10). The king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land—no more chariots, war-horses or bows. Commanding peace to the nations, he will be a king of peace.

Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God. This contrast—between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Cæsar—is central not only to the gospel of Mark, but to the story of Jesus and early Christianity. The confrontation between these two kingdoms continues through the last week of Jesus’s life … Holy Week is the story of this confrontation” (Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem. HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, pp. 2-5).

The whole church proceeded with palms, shouting “Hosanna!” About halfway through the parade I invited a five year old to lead the procession and without hesitation, she stepped right to the front of the line and fearlessly marched onward.

Our attention then turned to a reading of the Passion narrative from Matthew interspersed with sacred hymns of the season. I invited the congregation to participate in the story this year rather than just observe, and challenged each one to consider where they are on the spectrum between “Hosanna” and “Crucify!” All of us want to hurry up and get to the “Alleluia!” but we must take our time through this, stopping to consider where we are along the way towards the cross.

Even as we asked “What Wondrous Love is This?” we paused to think about our Lenten Cup. In our scripture reading, Jesus had just prayed all night long in the garden of Gethsemane:

In his very human prayer he beseeched, “Father, let this cup pass from me.” Jesus knew this cup was a cup of suffering. He had even suggested to the mother of the sons of Zebedee that her sons were not prepared to drink from his cup.

Then in his very Divine prayer acquiesced, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

And of course we know that Jesus, in his Divinity, willingly drank from that cup, sealing our reconciliation with God once and for all.

What is the cup of suffering that has been given to you? Is it something for which you constantly pray, “O Lord, let this cup pass from me?”  Is it physical or mental illness? An ailing family member? Neighbors that you just cannot get along with? A child with whom you constantly disagree? What is in that cup for you?

Because I have good news: no matter what the cup is, or whether you perceive that you can or cannot drink from it, God will be with you. God is with you. So even when we fail as the disciples did (by falling asleep when Jesus merely wanted their prayers and presence; by choosing aggression in the garden when Peter cut off the ear of the centurion; by abandoning Jesus during the trial and crucifixion), God will still be with us. There is no cup too bitter or too full of sorrow that God cannot share with us.

Do you know where you are on that spectrum from Hosanna (“save us”) to Crucify? As we continue to move through Holy Week, please continue to ask yourself that question. Having your palm from Sunday hanging in your home can be a visual cue to be mindful that Holy Week happens perpetually in our faith. We are always a people who shout “Hosanna” in our desperation, or when it is convenient, or part of what the crowd is doing; and constantly poised to be a people who shout “Crucify” when we aren’t willing to risk anything for our faith, or when being a Christian is inconvenient, or when the rest of the crowd is denying Christ as well.

Most congregants chose to leave their palms at church on Sunday. I’ve saved them, as I do each year, because our Palms from Palm Sunday become next year’s ashes for Ash Wednesday. Please drop by the church and pick up a palm to hang in your home somewhere as a reminder of our fickle nature, as a reminder to consider if you’re living in the Hosanna or the Crucify. Then next year on Ash Wednesday you can burn your own palm or bring it to the church to be turned into ashes for our Ash Wednesday service. Here’s an article with other thoughts about what you can do with your palms.

Take comfort, people.

We’ll be taking our faith wide after Easter. . .

In Christ,

 

Rev. P

Deep and Wide: The Empty Cup

Through this season of Lent we are looking at our faith lives as a cup. Last week we explored the significance of using an ordinary object to help us contemplate our faith. You can read about it by clicking here.

Sunday, March 4, we used the story of the prophet Elijah, exhausted and worn out from his trials with Queen Jezebel and King Ahab (1 Kings 19:1-18).  Poor Elijah was an empty cup. His life was being threatened and he had done everything he felt he could for God. So he curled up under a broom tree in the desert and cried out to God, “I QUIT!”  He basically gave up. “O Lord, take away my life.”  I mean, that’s about as empty as you can get.

The thing is, God wasn’t done with Elijah yet. It seemed like everything was working against him, but GOD was working for him. Elijah slept, and was awakened at intervals by angels who fed him cake baked on hot stones and filled him with water. He was cared for and nurtured and eventually was able to make the 40 day journey to Mt. Horeb, where God spoke to him in sheer silence.

We all feel empty sometimes. In the memoirs published after her death, Mother Teresa divulged that she experienced what St. John of the Cross described centuries ago as “A long, dark night of the soul.” During 20 some years, Mother Teresa could not feel God’s presence in her life. She didn’t lie down under a broom tree though, nor did she throw in the towel. She continued to serve the poorest of the poor and the lepers. She sat next to dying people and held their hands, reminding them of God’s beloved promises. To me, that makes her service all the more powerful. She wasn’t receiving that “holy gratification” of God’s presence and Spirit — but it didn’t keep her from being the very hands and feet of Christ to those who needed her the most.

There is an up side to emptying out, too. When our cups are full, we have little to no room to take in more. But an empty cup is ready to be filled. Think about breathing — you can’t take in the healthy and necessary oxygen until you have exhaled the carbon dioxide in your lungs. So when your cup is filled, especially when it is filled with yucky stuff, you don’t have room for growth.

This Lenten season, as you study and pray and hopefully deepen your faith, consider the yucky stuff in your cup and recognize when it needs to go so you can make room for the good stuff. Or perhaps you feel more like Elijah — you’re empty and burned out — ready to quit. Remember that even when you feel like you’re done, God is close and ready to send angels to nourish you back to health. Take time for yourself; rest, wait on the Lord. It can be our emptiness that opens us to growth and renewal.

With Peace,

Rev. P

Deep and Wide: The Lenten Cup

Sunday was a momentous day for our congregation as we ordained and installed new officers for our church leadership. Mark Lund, Cathy Lile, and Jake Bolen were ordained and installed as deacons; Bob Gaskins and Dylan Cormican were ordained and installed as Elders.

You may be asking what our “Lenten Cup” has to do with Ordination. Well — here’s how I see it.  Sunday I told the stories of several lovely tea cups, coffee mugs, and basic, utilitarian glasses that I had brought from home. By telling the stories of the cups, you all came to understand why each one was special to me. I think the most telling one may have been the coffee cup from my mother’s china set. She was married in 1964, and I recall using that china only one time — for one of my parent’s milestone anniversaries. The cup I shared on Sunday morning still had the German manufacturing sticker on the bottom; my mother had always said she was saving it for something “special.”  Unfortunately, Dad died in 1992 and we never used it after that. Mom died in 2012 and was perhaps still waiting for something special.

“Okay, Paula” you might be thinking. “Enough about the cups — what do they have to do with my faith?”  Just follow me. . . I’m getting there (I promise)!

Cups are essential to our life, as we cannot live without water and fluids. So even if we fashion a cup out of our hands at a crystal-clear mountain stream, we can still see those hands as a cup and they share the same basic characteristics of any cup: they have the capacity to be filled; they have a limit to how much goes in; every one of them is different.

But why cups?  The roots of the Presbyterian denomination are post-reformation Scotland, and we have a strong connection to Celtic Spirituality. One aspect of Celtic spirituality is the understanding that there is no difference between the secular world and the spiritual world — any commonplace or ordinary object can point us to God:

It was a “holy worldliness” to use Bonhoeffer’s phrase where a holistic approach to life was expressed daily in the real incarnational ordinariness of life as it is. There was no false divide between the sacred and secular. Where an integrated life, of body and soul, work and worship, wonder and ordinariness; prayer and life are the norm. A sacramental outlook that because it sees God in everything, encourages a reverence for God’s creation and a respect for the care of his world. An everyday spirituality of ordinariness accessible to all. Never anti –intellectual it was an earthed spirituality that met people where they were. People did not have to climb ecclesiastical walls or learn ‘holy God speak’ to encounter ‘a thin place.’

Esther De Waal puts it well; ‘The Celtic approach to God opens up a world in which nothing is too common to be exalted and nothing is so exalted that it cannot be made common.’ They believed that the presence of God infused daily life and thus transforms it, so that at any moment, any object, any job of work, can become a place for encounter with God. (click here to read more about Celtic Spirituality).

The features of an ordinary cup that teach us so much about our own life and our faith is several fold. Like the stories I told about each cup on our Communion table last week, we each have stories of our own that make us unique, special, and treasured.  Like the cups on the table, we each have the capacity to hold something — good stuff or yucky stuff. And like the cups on the table, we each can be filled with only so much (which makes what we fill our cup with all the more important).

Jesus often used ordinary objects to teach us about life. Whether it was a fig tree, a coin, a sheep, or a cup, the metaphor was rarely lost on Jesus’ first century listeners nor on us.  Consider this teaching of Jesus near the end of his ministry on earth:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26  

See? Jesus says it like it is. . . the pharisees and lawyers of his day were so wrapped up in “appearing” holy and righteous, that they rarely worked on the inside to become truly clean. I think too often we get pretty wrapped up with our appearance as well.  But there is, of course, hope:

“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”   2 Tim. 2:21 CEV

So — that’s what we’re doing. We will first clean the yucky stuff out of our cup and then work on what it is that we put inside. And as a special charge to our newly ordained officers, I reminded them that we have many assorted and unique cups in our church family, and it is their calling to minister to all of them, regardless of what the outside looks like; and encourage them to look compassionately at what is on the inside.

I pray that this Lenten season offers you many opportunities to experience the “Holy” in the “Ordinary” and that you will begin to fill your cup with the good stuff, so that if you ever begin to spill over, it’s only beautiful, loving things that are flowing out rather than the yucky, sinful and selfish things we become so filled with over time.

 

In Christ,

Rev. P

Confirmation!

It is my sacred duty as a pastor to assure that our youth are welcomed into the congregation as members and prepared for their faith. In past generations, Confirmation was a time for youth to learn by rote: catechisms, creeds, and other information was force fed so that students could regurgitate these things when called upon. But what rote memorization of facts/theologies/ideas didn’t do was prepare them for their own questions and doubts.

Over the course of many Confirmation classes over the past 15 years or so, what I’ve begun to develop is the process of leading youth into an understanding of God in their own lives and to notice how God is working through and relating to the world even today. We have come to understand God through the Trinity — the revelation of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. The following skit is the “sermon” that this year’s amazing class of disciples wrote to present to their church family in worship for Confirmation Sunday, Feb. 18. They also presented their very own statements of faith to the session when they were approved for baptism and/or membership.

I feel that our newly Confirmed youth know that their faith journey is just that: a journey. A Life-long journey — not an actual destination (or at least not until their lives are completed)! I couldn’t do this by myself; this is thanks to so many who help with our youth.  To Traci Maddox, who served as the Mentor for this class of confirmands; Rochelle Lantermans, Sandra Cormican, Suzie Lovato, Maggie Rainwater, Joe Palmer, and Steve Sears who help with our weekly youth ministries of youTHursday and Tuesday morning breakfasts; the Elders and officers of CEH, and to all of you who welcome them week after week and greet them with open arms and open hearts (and sometimes peppermints): THANK YOU!  You are the hands and feet of Christ, the presence of God in the lives of these young disciples, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the impact you have on their understanding of a loving and grace-filled God. Thanks also to open-hearted saints like Sue Perkins, Stephen Eddy, and James Steinbacher, who have helped many of our young disciples find places to serve on Sunday mornings.

I hope you enjoy this skit, as written by our Confirmation class of 2017/2018: Krista Conrad, Dylan Cormican, Emma Lane, and Emily Lantermans.

 

Identity Crisis

Krista is confused about who she is.  God (Emily), Jesus (Emma), Holy Spirit (Dylan) appear on the scene to reaffirm her identity in and belongingness to the family of God.

Paula: Confirmation is a time where you get to think about who you are and where you belong in the family of God. It’s a time to learn more about our doctrine, your beliefs, and to ask questions. So now I have a question for you, Krista.  Who are you?

Krista: Paula!  That’s the problem.  I’m not even really sure. And I’m definitely not CERTAIN about my faith and beliefs.

Paula: Krista, I know just the person you need to talk with. . . (Paula exits chancel area).

(Emma scoots in on her scooter)

Emma: Hi Krista, Jesus here.

Krista: Wait, like actual Jesus?

Emma: Yes, actual Jesus. You were just talking about me blessing the children. I mean, you read it right from the Bible.

Krista: Woah.

Emma: So I heard you needed some help figuring out who you are.

Krista : I guess. I’m just not exactly sure. I know that I love volleyball, and my family, and my friends.  I know that I am getting confirmed later . . . but that’s about it.

Emma: Are you sure that’s it?

Krista: Well. . . I know that my fave color is glitter.

Emma: No, no not that kind of stuff. What do you know about what you believe?  What do you know about what you want to do with your life?

Krista: No, I don’t know that, why should I?

Emma: Why should you? WHY SHOULD YOU??????? Because someday that might be all you have. If something tough comes along, knowing what you believe in can make a world of difference. So, what do YOU know?

Krista: I know that I believe in you, and your Dad I guess.

Emma: Good, that is a good start. Now, if I make any kind of lasting impression on you today, let it be this: part of you is still a child; part of all of us is a child. We enter the kingdom of God like a child. You still have things to learn, we all do. I think it would be beneficial to speak to a close friend of mine. *clap clap* I’ll see you later.

(The theme to Star Wars plays as Emma exits, and Emily and Dylan ride in on a holy trike )

Krista: What is even happening?  (to congregation) How am I supposed to grow up if I am still seen as a child?

Emily: Hello my child, I have known you for a very long time.

Krista: Wait. . . What? Who the heck are you?

Emily: Oh, ya.  (puts on huge white beard) Does this help?

Krista: Oh, so are you like a knock off kind of God?

Emily: Sigh.  No.  What you are looking at is just the stereotypical image of God.  God isn’t actually a human being — that’s the Jesus part of God.  God is — uh — less of a physical form kinda thing.

Krista: Oh.

Emily: So that’s who I am.  The Creator, the Father, the Mother. You know.  So. . . who are you?

Krista: I’m Krista. I don’t know.

Emily: Krista. You are my beloved child. You are my creation; you are fearfully and wonderfully made. I’ve given you so many wonderful gifts. Do you know any of them?

Krista: Um.  My dog?  My family?

Emily: Those are gifts; but I’m talking about the unique parts of you that make YOU — YOU.

Krista:  So, like, my hair?

Emily: NO, you silly goose. You’d still be YOU without those fabulous highlights.I’m talking about your talents and skills and those special gifts you bring to the world.

Krista: Well sometimes, I feel like I don’t bring anything to the world. Or maybe that other people don’t notice what I try to bring.I mean Jesus says that we are supposed to be like children, right? But sometimes when I come to church people avoid me and act like they don’t know what to say to me because I’m not quite still a child, and I’m not yet an adult.

Emily:  I’m afraid that sometimes adults can be a little intimidated by “TEEN” agers.  You know — the whole tech-savvy, plugged in generation. Sometimes they see you as focused only on your phones or your tablets or computers or apple watches.

Krista: But that’s not me. I don’t focus on that, and right now, I am trying to figure out what I am really like, not just another comment on a screen.

Emily: Exactly. You’re not just a baby; you’re turning into a functioning adult. You are going to need to start figuring this stuff out. I am here to help. Ask me anything.

Krista: Okay: Who Am I? Why Am I Here?

Emily: Krista, you are my child, once again. You are here to help spread my word, and be loved by me, and love others. Even when they look at you like you’re a robot programmed to to say “get out of my room, Mom”

Krista: Okay, I think I’m starting to figure it out. I think I am starting to recognize my purpose in this crazy world.

Emily: Good, I’ve got to go, I have a few small jobs to do, lol. I’m gonna send someone to help you figure out this last bit of the crazy journey. See ya Krista, and may peace be with you.

Krista: WAIT!!! Don’t leave me here alone! ! !

(Emily rides off to the theme from Star Wars, while Dylan creeps up on stage behind Emily. He is wearing a halo and is wrapped in a comforter).

Dylan: You’re never alone Krista, never alone

Krista:  What. . . . is. . . HAPPENING???????

Dylan: You may not know me, but I am always here. I am here for all the trials and tribulations of your life. I will be, and am, here for all of it.

Krista: Really? That’s kinda weird.

Dylan: No, its not. I’m here to comfort you! To let you know that you’re okay. I’m here to help you with your faith journey. To help you continue to figure out who you are with God.

Krista: You mean I don’t have to do this alone?

Dylan: You never have to do anything alone Krista! I’m here, we’re all here (Emily and Emma wave from the back of the sanctuary, and krista sees all of them).

Krista: I think I finally figured it out. I figured out that I can be whoever God created me to be, and God will support me. I can be whatever I want through God when I use the gifts I have been given.  I can be a small child, or a fully functioning teen, whatever. I just have to remember that God is my everything, and I’m never alone!  AMEN!

(be)Attitude Change 2018: Mourn

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace (selections from Ecclesiastes 3:1-12).

Blessed are those who mourn; for they will be comforted.  Matthew 5:4

We broached the painful subject of mourning on Sunday. It wasn’t out of the blue; it’s the last beatitude to examine during the (be)Attitude Change: 2018 series as it leads us right into Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, the 40 days leading up to Easter morning and the empty tomb. Typically, Lent begins with a call to repentance and contemplation. When we talk about “Repentance” remember we are talking about more than just personal confession and turning back to God; we are talking about adapting a completely different mindset. Over the past month we have heard Jesus reminding us time and again to see things from his Kingdom View. In Jesus’ view, the hungry are blessed and filled, the poor are given the Kingdom, the meek will inherit the earth.  Jesus also reminds us that those who are mourning will be comforted.

Sunday we took some time to face the question of mourning head on. Our youth director, Maggie Rainwater, shared with us a series of slides describing the rituals surrounding death from across the globe. There was one consistent theme we heard from culture to culture, and that is each culture acknowledges the pain surrounding the death of a loved one and allows an amount of time wherein it is encouraged and even expected for family and friends to grieve and mourn publicly. Of course the time is different from culture to culture — with some traditions lasting a week, and some lasting several years!

But it occurred to me that even within a loving Christian community such as CEH, we are in a quite a rush to sweep our grief under the carpet. Let’s plan the service, settle the estate, and move on. But that’s not a healthy way to deal with death. Sure there are many details and “business” matters to deal with after a death, but our scriptures reinforce the need to mourn by taking time: time to heal; time to weep; time to mourn. If we don’t stop long enough to feel the immense pain of losing a loved one rather than putting on a brave face and plowing straight ahead, we will not receive the precious comfort promised by Jesus in the beatitudes. Perhaps part of the reason that we rush to celebrate and acknowledge the glory of the Resurrection in a “Death, where is thy sting?” kind of way. But Jesus reminds us of what our Hebrew scriptures have been saying for generations: it is okay to lament and mourn and cry and recognize the huge hole left in our hearts when a loved one dies. And when we let go of hubris and show our hurt to the world, we will be comforted.

Comfort truly flows from a Christian community that is paying attention to the Kingdom view. Remember that Jesus calls us to “Hunger” for righteousness and justice, and that our hunger should be not only for our own reconciliation to God and our own wholeness, but our hunger should be deep as we pay attention to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Part of being attuned to one another’s needs is a willingness to be vulnerable with each other. I get it — grief is difficult.  Without our promise of eternal life and the hope of the resurrection, I would personally sink into an existential despair so deep I couldn’t even see my way out. Grief can be ugly, with lots of sobbing and tears and too many kleenexes. But as we open ourselves to the pain, we do discover something incredible: comfort.

As we move into Lent, I want to invite all of you to take this new mindset — our hopes of living in the Kingdom of God instead of the oppressive Kingdom of the World that we are completely immersed in. To do this, you’ll need to challenge yourself to grow deeper in your faith; to reinforce your relationship with God and to our beloved community. The “Lenten Cup Challenge” is your opportunity to covenant to spend 20 minutes — unplugged from the world and plugged into God — every day. 20 minutes of mindful study and prayer, resting in the presence of God. Pick up your cup on the table outside of the Fellowship Hall and sign up. The cup has a “Practicing Lent” guide with a reading for each Sunday in Lent, as well as a burlap or “sack cloth” scrap for you to touch and hold while you’re praying. At the end of Lent, we’ll collect the scraps and they will be turned into a collage to remind us of our time together in lament, mourning, prayer, and mindfulness.

Choose your own daily devotional or opt for “The Cup of Our Life” by Joyce Rupp, a daily devotional that will teach you new daily spiritual disciplines and help you examine your own “Cup” and what you have in it. There is a public copy of “The Cup of Our Life” in the fireside area next to the office, that you are welcome to use while at church.

I’m excited to see the way we grow as a community who commits to daily study and prayer. I know God will bring us great encouragement and draw us closer into relationship, so that as Easter approaches and we celebrate the glory of the resurrection, we can take our Deep Faith and take it WIDE to spread it around!

In Hope,

Rev. P

(be)Attitude Change 2018: Hungry

Sunday we continued our study on having an attitude change by learning to see things from the perspective of Jesus’ Beatitudes.  This week we focused specifically on hunger.  From Matthew 5:  Blessed are you when you hunger and thirst after righteousness; for you will be filled; and from Mark 6:  Blessed are the hungry, for they shall be filled.

Jesus said we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness. But we don’t hunger for much of anything. Sure, we get cravings. And most of the time we can fulfill those cravings in a matter of minutes or hours. I’m not even talking about just physical hunger; I’m talking about the things we crave and seek after in our life.  We are certainly filled.

So since we are filled, do we bless those who are not filled? Those who are hungry or those who live in abject poverty?

On January 20 of 1961, President John F. Kennedy made his inaugural speech, pointing to the “power to abolish all forms of human poverty.” What a promising time!  In the 50 years since, we have not come very far in “abolishing poverty.”  We haven’t even come to a time when everyone who is hungry can be filled. What would it take to feed the world’s hungry or abolish poverty?

The worlds 8 wealthiest men have a combined net worth of $426,000,000,000. 1/7 of the their income ($60,000,000,000) would feed every hungry person in the world! Don’t feel so smug though, $60 billion is also just about 3 billion less than we spend on pet food in the United States annually.  

In a newly published report, Oxfam reported, “Last year saw the biggest increase in billionaires in history, one more every two days. Billionaires saw their wealth increase by $762bn in 12 months. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over. 82% of all wealth created in the last year went to the top 1%, while the bottom 50% saw no increase at all” (citation here; emphasis added).

So when we wonder why the hungry have not yet been filled, we must look to our own inaction. For one thing, it’s pretty overwhelming. The World Food Program states “In a world where we produce enough food to feed everyone, 815 million people – one in nine – still go to bed on an empty stomach each night. Even more – one in three – suffer from some form of malnutrition.” Maybe you, like me, feel like that number is so great I cannot possibly do anything about it.

But I’m reminded that Mother Teresa said “If you can’t feed 100 people, just feed one.” Sage guidance from a woman who spent her life taking care of one person at a time.  She said, “I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one.”

But in order to see the hunger of even one person at a time you need to get out of yourself.  This beatitude calls for our mindset to be not so much focused on our own hunger, but to hunger for righteousness.  Righteousness means that your hunger should be deep for every other human at least as much as it is for yourself. That was the crux of Jesus’ teaching. Personal righteousness was important — “keeping oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).  But more to the point, as we also read in James, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” (James 2:15-16).

We will be blessed when we learn to hunger for our brothers’ and sisters’ needs. We will be blessed when we learn to look beyond our own cravings and desires and begin to tune into our neighbor’s needs. We were blessed this Sunday to have a new friend worship with us who learned about us through our food pantry. He came, he worshiped with us, ate a delicious lunch from our pot-luck smorgasborg, and then even left with a backpack full of nutritious food so he could make it through the week.  It wasn’t him who was as blessed so much as we, the CEH family, was blessed to have him in our midst.

Your (be)Attitude change for this coming week is to open your hearts to the hunger of others around you. May you be blessed in the trying. You are sharing the love of Jesus through God by attending to the hunger of others.   Ghandi suggested, “There are people so hungry in the world, God is only visible to them in a loaf of bread.” So get out there and try and find out what the other’s “Bread” is.

In Hope,

Rev. P

 

 

 

(be)Attitude Change 2018: Poor

As we continue to explore how to change our attitudes as this new year begins, we look to the beatitudes of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew’s lengthy Sermon on the Mount. We’ve already discovered that “Blessed are you” has very different connotations than we may be aware of (read the intro here if you’re behind on your beatitudes) and “Meekness,” although not a popular quality, can teach us how to be obedient to our rock-star teacher, who was self-described as meek  (read about “Meek” by clicking here).

Today we take another look at the beatitudes by reading The Message translation by Eugene Peterson:

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Typically, the translation for “end of your rope” reads “Poor in spirit.”  In the Lukan version of the beatitudes, we read merely “Poor.” But recognizing that a majority of my readers are not economically “Poor” in any sense of the word, I love this translation for “Poor in Spirit”: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.” I love it because those words are absolutely more fitting to our context and actually make a lot of sense. When you’re at the end of your rope (and we all get there sometimes), you recognize your deep and essential need to give God control of your life. It’s unfortunate that we must find ourselves dangling precariously before we turn it all over to God, but it is our human nature to do so.  Peterson says, “With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” If we were to change our attitudes for 2018, we might decide not to wait until that last minute emergency to turn to God.

And what would that look like? We would empty ourselves of everything except God; we would allow the character traits that Jesus expounds upon here to permeate our very lives and begin to be filled with an amazing, fresh perspective! Instead of bemoaning our desperation, we could be praising God for filling our every need and trusting God to provide. We would be less stingy with our own abundance (whether it be food, time, money, etc) and more willing to show generosity to anyone who had a need.

Our (be)Attitude Change for 2018 is really shaping up to be a challenge. My prayer for you is that you will find yourselves rethinking your reactions and interactions with our world; and that in your re-thinking process you can begin to embrace Jesus’ challenging teachings. Don’t be discouraged if your perspective doesn’t change right away. You can always try again tomorrow. And you will find yourself blessed, indeed (even in the failing).

With hope,

Rev. P

(be)Attitude Change 2018: Meek

I read this quote recently while working on a service of baptism:

“When the convert emerges from the water, the world seems changed. The world has not changed, it is always wonderful and horrible, iniquitous and filled with beauty. But now, after baptism, the eyes that see the world have changed” (Liturgy Training Publications).

With wonder, I realized that we who are baptized, or who are believers or even seekers, need to be aware of our own eyes and how we see the world.  The world is not going to change; we must be the ones to change.

So I started working on how best to teach an “Attitude Change” or change of perspective that Jesus and John the baptizer both spoke about when they said, “Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The Greek word for repent here is “metanoia,” indicating not just a change of direction (the Hebrew word for repent, תְּשׁוּבָה, teshuva, means “turn back” specifically to God, but can also indicate just a change in direction), but a change of one’s entire perspective: heart, mind, eyes, understanding.  Meta — noia is what John and Jesus were calling us to; but how do we change our perspective?

Well, shortly after Jesus calls for a metanoia in Matthew chapter 4, he begins to teach.  Chapters 5 – 7 in Matthew comprise the longest teaching section of Jesus anywhere in the Bible: the Sermon on the Mount, and the sermon on the mount kicks off with a series of perspective-changing imperatives:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

So we are using this series of imperatives to help us change our own attitudes.  These statements can be confusing; we’re taking them one at a time to make them more manageable.

Sunday, Jan. 21, we tackled “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Meek?  Blessed are the meek?  Meekness is not exactly a quality that is honored in our present day.  A current definition for “meek” in Merriam Webster says, “enduring injury with patience and without resentment mild.” That definition backs up what I think most people have in the back of their mind for meek:  “doormat.”

In our entirety of scriptures, only two biblical characters are described as “Meek:” Moses and Jesus. I would never say that either of them served as a “Doormat.” Rather, their leadership was found in the source of their power: God.  We get a better clue as to what Jesus meant by “meek” when we search for other scriptural references using “Meek.” As it turns out, Jesus’ “The meek shall inherit the earth” was a direct quote from Psalm 37.  In Hebrew, the word we have translated as meek means “Humbled.” It carries an even heavier connotation of the humility being by choice — as an animal who chooses to be obedient to his master. A good image for this is a work animal, like an ox, being yoked to a plow or wagon and following the direction of the human.  The ox hasn’t lost any of its power or strength, but all of that power and strength is being submitted to the master.

Our master is Jesus. That might be hard for some to swallow, but it is who we claim to be when we say we are “Christians.”  To be meek then, for us, means to take our best talents and skills and submit them to God’s direction. We don’t lose our selves in the process; rather we use what God has given us (like God gave the ox brute strength), trusting that we will be led.

When we learn to be “Meek,” we are showing our faith and our trust that God will come out on top. We are trusting that we don’t have to fight back or put up defensive protection for ourselves: God will take care of that for us.

With this wonderful understanding of the word, “Meek,” a terrific modern day example of meekness is Martin Luther King, Jr, who advocated for non violent protest against the injustice of Jim Crow, segregation, and other racial injustices. Without fighting back, he was able to lead an entire corps to speak up for equal rights. In his wisdom, he said, “Darkness cannot chase away darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot conquer hate; only love can do that.”

So our (be)Attitude Change for Meekness challenges us to use our strength and power to be light in the darkness, and love in the midst of hate, trusting that is all we are called to do when we submit ourselves to our loving and meek master.

May it be so for all of us as we continue to change our perspective on the world.

With Love,

 

Rev. P