A frequent occurrence that gives me joy is when someone out in the community asks what I do and as soon as I tell them that I’m one of the pastors at First United Methodist Church they respond with a glowing comment about some member of our congregation who is involved in helping make our community a better place to live for all our neighbors. I feel that same joy every Sunday as I look out on this congregation and see the faces of people who know and live out the meaning of joyful humility.
These people, like so many of our own personal faith heroes, illustrate what we learn from the Bible about humility. Humility is not about putting ourselves down or hiding our gifts to avoid drawing attention to ourselves. When we turn to the Scriptures we discover that there is a kind of joy which comes when we develop a clear and positive sense of who we are, identify our gifts and intentionally connect our gifts to the work of God in our lives and in our world. Humility is expressed in the recognition that all we are and have is a gift from God and that the path to joy involves ordering our steps by the Word and work of God. Read More
Dorothy Day was most well known for her work with the poor and the Catholic workers movement. She lived from 1897-1980 and was utterly focused on hospitality, always talking about how we can welcome people as Christ. She also happened to be a heavy smoker. Her day began with lighting up a cigarette. Every Lent Dorothy would give up smoking, but by halfway through Lent the rest of the community was usually praying that she would take it up again! One year, as Lent approached, the priest who ordinarily heard her confessions urged her not to give up cigarettes that year, but instead to pray daily, "Dear God, help me stop smoking." She used that prayer for several years without it having any impact on her addiction. Then one morning she woke up, reached for a cigarette, and realized she didn't want it and never smoked another. (1)
I share this story because I do believe that prayer is powerful and affective. I also believe that prayer is a lot of work sometimes and that many times it’s hard to know what affect it is having on us or on others. Mother Theresa said that prayer is to our soul like blood is to our body. I find that an interesting metaphor because of course we can’t live without blood in our bodies; and blood is also what carries nutrients, oxygen, proteins, and hormones throughout our body. Prayer is the carrier within our souls— bringing life and health and joy to us and to God. (2) Read More
Relentless Joy. In January when we decided on Relentless Joy as our theme for Lent, and it sounded wonderful to me. Six weeks to focus on joyful living; six weeks to read Paul’s letter to the Philippians and soak in all of the joy he talks about. I’ve always like Lent for this reason— perhaps because I grew up Methodist and wasn’t forced to give up chocolate every year, I always saw Lent as the time to do things different for six weeks and see how those six weeks then shaped my relationship with God. One year in high school I fasted every Friday with my best friend. The year I went before the Board for Ordination I added an hour of prayer to my morning routine to keep myself calm. One year I just committed to reading poetry because I missed reading it and knew that it would be good for my soul. One year Todd and I gave up TV and didn’t take it back for about four years after that. I liked the idea of Relentless Joy because it truly reflects what I’ve always thought was the best part of Lent— choosing to live joyfully by trying something new for a little while. As it says in the Westminster Catechism, our purpose is to worship God and to enjoy God forever. If our purpose is to enjoy God forever, why shouldn’t we start in Lent? Read More
Every year on the Sunday before Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, we read this story. It is the story of Jesus being transfigured— changing somehow in ways that no one could explain, even then— while also being accompanied by Elijah and Moses, and even by the very voice of God.
At first blush, this seems like it would be a dream come true for the disciples. How often do we, as people of faith, long to have assurance of that faith. How often do we want to see Jesus— and not necessarily the humanity of Jesus, the muddy footed, tired, sweaty guy who walked through Palestine, but the divine Jesus— the one who fed five thousand people and spoke of love and makes everything right again.
Yes, this story brings with it awe and amazement and longing as we hear it because everything seems so clear. Moses is there: the one who led the people out of slavery and organized them into being God’s children; Elijah is there: the greatest prophet who ever lived; and then God’s voice comes out of the heavens and declares once again that Jesus is God’s Son and they should listen to him.
Yes, this seems like a story that puts everything in its rightful place.
It’s very similar to what I was hoping would happen at General Conference this past week. Read More