Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Practice of Emptying

This week has been really- Really- Really -full week.

We celebrated the life, death, and resurrection of a very dear friend of mine on Sunday. Powerful, sad, joyful, inspiring.
This was Sunday.

Change comes into life. Well- really- it doesn't "come" into life-- it is life-- change is life-- change, rhythm... and yet sometimes, it is so hard.

Our church life is experiencing change now-would you call them growing pains? I'm not sure. Vision pains? I don't know what the words are. I am learning and learning and learning. I am watching and feeling sad and worried and praying. I pray for church unity and for sisters and brothers in Christ to hear one another, to assume the best (rather than the worst) of one another, to seek to know the heart of people rather than place blame, judgment, and hostility.
I feel so much for those who feel upset and for those who feel angry and for those who feel worried. Fear and anger are intricately connected. How do I soothe this? How do you comfort and lead at the same time?
The church hurts sometimes.... (it aches as a whole, it hurts those in it, and it just hurts....)
This was Monday (and a lot of days).

Life as a Clergywoman presents challenges that I would venture to say clergymen do not experience. Even beyond the basic parts (if you are Mom) handling temper tantrums while trying to respond to an emergency pastoral phone call.... Being a clergywoman sometimes means that you remind "The Church" to recognize the need to strive towards equality (because I'm telling you- we are not there). We do not see as Christ sees- we do not see as Paul said, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus"(Galatians 3:28). Being a clergywoman means that you remind "The Church" that we do not need a "special occasion" to have a woman speak at an event - it doesn't have to Women's History Month, or a special women's anniversary, or a Women's Ministry Event. Speaking up and doing this well get you comments and sometimes snarky jokes, rolled eyes, annoyed people. You are not being a "femi-nazi" (a term I loathe) if you do this. You are being called. Others will look at you like you are an annoying thorn but so be it.
This was part of my Tuesday (and sometimes part of a lot of days...)

It all felt so so very full.

I must say a disclaimer here: I hesitated to share this all because it is all so vulnerable.
I'm really putting myself out here- Yes, I hurt when I lose people I love. Yes, sometimes the church is hard. Yes, sometimes being a clergywoman is tough. But I have hope. I share this out authenticity, out of honest, raw, realness. Some people read stuff like this and say- that's why its easier not to get close to folks and feel (because you'll hurt), that's why I don' t go to church (because sometimes people can be hurtful), that's why women shouldn't be pastors (they push back and stand up and need to be taking care of babies too)...
I share this because yes- I feel it all and

I don' t give up on living, on faith, on church, or on my call.

In many ways Lent is about emptying your self---- giving, sacrificing, letting go, letting go of self.

Sometimes people give something up to come closer to understanding all Christ gave for us. Giving something up is not about saying, "See - I gave something up."

Thought this was a good article on Lent and giving things up.

Sometimes adding something is helpful.
Inevitably if we add something- we give something up. The point is about making the focus less on us and more on Christ. Its about seeking to grow closer to Christ and what God has done and is doing for us.

We empty self and are filled with Christ.

Its been a full week--and its only Wednesday.

Sometimes we fill full in a good good way. I've felt that this week at times.

Sometimes we fill full and its not so good (and I'm not just talking about when you've eaten too many samoas) - I mean filled with emotional pain....

Both can be overwhelming.
And strangely enough- we can sometimes feel both of those at the exact same time....

So we need to empty. Empty ourselves.....

We're holding a lot.

We try to hold it on our own.

And it is a burden.

And it is heavy.

And we can become weary.

And then we are not our best selves...

We don't need to hold it ourselves.

We all have different words painted on our hearts, on our hands...
and we can just lift them to God.
Give them over.
Empty them out.

Last night after getting the girls to bed, I ran out to Target. Picture day was today and I wanted to be able for them to have coordinating outfits for their pictures (sibling pictures). Last year I was able to get similar outfits that were different colors.... So I headed out- took the dog for the ride with me.

The minute I was in the car- alone- no radio going...
I just started weeping and weeping and weeping.
I wept for everything.

So so much. (I haven't even hit it all here.... nor could I) .

Our poor dog Lucy came over and tried to comfort me.
(Dogs are so smart and I think there is some reason beyond me that Dog is God spelled backwards...they have powerful compassion).

I could not stop weeping.
I thought of calling a friend...
and I did... really...

I just started talking to God about everything.

I love the cross that hangs in the sanctuary at Messiah United Methodist Church.
It is an empty cross.

This picture was taken last year on Holy Thursday.
This was the garden of Gethsemane above, and as always hangs the Empty Cross.

Its kind of powerful that the picture I could find is of the sanctuary turned into the Garden of Gethsemane. In the Garden, Jesus emptied himself and gave everything over to his Father in heaven. On the cross- he takes everything we have. The empty cross is a sign for us that Jesus can take it all. Give it all over. Fill it up-- the cross can take it. Jesus already has taken it all. There is room here for everything. Lay the weight down and stand.

Jesus says, "
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11: 28-30).

Letting go is not easy-- but being empty of the burden is so powerful.

Its empty in a way that you are no longer in want (Psalm 23)
Its an empty in a way that you no longer thirst (John 4:10)
Its an empty that means you will no longer hunger (John 6: 35)

Throughout Lent (and always), I will need to continue to empty myself, so that I may be filled with the love, joy, grace, and peace of Jesus Christ.

The Mystery of the Lenten Journey

Renunciation, solitude, and the persistent desire for God are not among the current virtues in American culture. Most of us are looking for more immediate satisfactions and, above all, for personal happiness. Perhaps this is why the very notion of the wilderness and ascetic life seem a denial of all we hold dear. Yet any human being who lives long enough with the shocks, collisions and changes of life knows that there are rhythms in our existence we cannot escape: seasons of plenty and seasons of want, of ecstasy and despair, of joy and tribulation, of life and death. The mystery is that this is what the Lenten journey reveals.

- Dr. Don E. Saliers, William R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship, Emeritus at Candler School of Theology, Emory University

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Psalm for Today, February 26, 2012

Lord, in the midst of all my sadness I still feel you.

In the midst of bewilderment- I know you hold me.

I know because I could not stand, were it for you Lord.

I cannot stop the tears, I cannot sing without weeping.

My tears are overflowing.

My heart runs over.

And you keep me full.

The pain of losing those I love is strangely buoyed by the presence of Christ abiding in me.

I feel wrapped in comfort by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I feel guided by you.

While I know I have faith, while I am thankful for my faith—I feel surprised by its power…

I feel surprised- in awe, of your power still.

How do I not know? How do I not remember?

You saved me from the pit.

You brought me up out of the depths of darkness and poured your light and safety, comfort, and grace over me.

When all others abandoned, you Lord did not.

You always keep your promises. You are constant and steadfast.

And so again, I do not fear.

Once I again, I know how this story ends.

Once again, I remember—that this is indeed not the end.

I feel held in a powerful tension of the kingdom.

I feel like my faith is anchored with you in your Kingdom.

I live in the now and the not yet.

I walk along this tension and am caught in a net of your comfort whenever I slip.

I am not only anchored there- but propelled forward into the kingdom.

I eat bread and wine.

I remember the water of baptism.

I know how this ordinary girl has turned into your servant by your extraordinary grace and everlasting love.

This ordinary day is extraordinary- the veil is diminished and we have a glimpse of your kingdom.

We are there but not yet.

But you are always with us.

Psalm written by Rev. Beth Anderson

February 26, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

He Said What?

Rev. Beth Anderson

Scriptures that Keep us Awake at Night

“He Said What?”

Matthew 15: 21-28

February 19, 2012

Today, is Transfiguration Sunday, the day we see and acknowledge that Jesus is Christ. Christ stood before the disciples and his face shone like the sun, his clothes becoming white as the light. Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent. It is a time to celebrate the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is also a time of transition from Jesus’ work of teaching and healing to the journey of Lent.

Today we end our Sermon Series on “Scriptures that Keep us Awake at Night” - we have explored the scriptures you all submitted and each pastor has preached a scripture that keeps them awake at night.

Many of you have shared that this series has sparked an excitement in exploring the bible.

I’m excited by that.

I believe that is just what we need—a faith that is ignited—transformed from a flame into a fire—ignited to burn bright.

Can our faith be aglow as Jesus was, as he stood on top the mountain at His transfiguration?

Can our faith withstand both the mountain tops, and the valleys?

Wednesday we begin Lent as we repent and acknowledge that from dust we were born and to dust we will return. We explore forty days of Lent seeking to grow closer to Christ who sacrificed everything for us on the cross. Lent is a time to draw close to Christ and the word of God.

I hope that throughout Lent, scripture will continue to keep you up at night- and that it will also shape your days and transform your life.

Today, I am thrilled to share with you a scripture that has kept me awake at night.

I invite you to turn in your pew bibles to page _____

Here now this scripture from the Gospel of Matthew 15: 21-28

Matthew 15:21-28

Today's New International Version (TNIV)

The Faith of a Canaanite Woman

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

This is the word of God- for the people of God.

Thanks be to God.

So what is your first reaction when you read this?

It may be Wow? Really?

It may be: “He Said WHAT?”

We may need to read this over and over and over again.

We have reactions to all the characters-

To Jesus

To the Disciples

And To this Canaanite woman

All of them react in ways that stir our emotions and rattle our expectations.

--- So we wonder—

He Said What?

We may wonder- why did she stay?

We may be frustrated with the disciples….

But the thing we must do is keep reading. And Reading.

Let’s get beyond our first reactions. Let’s not give up on the text.

Earlier in chapter 15 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus and the Pharisees get into it about handwashing.

Jesus called them on their hypocrisy – they were picking and choosing what laws they would follow.

They were more interested in the letter of the law than the spirit of the law. Jesus says to them, “you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

After this, we come to the story of the Canaanite woman.

Jesus left the places of disputing with the Pharisees, John the Baptist has just been killed, Jesus had fed 5000 people, and walked on water, --- he withdraws to the area of Tyre and Sidon.

Yet, even there, a Canaanite woman had heard of him.

She may be a Gentile- but she knows who Jesus is.

She may be considered unclean, but she has a heart filled with love for her daughter.

She may not know the law of the Jews, but she knows love.

She may not follow their tradition, but she has followed Jesus to this place.

She comes in to the place where Jesus is, crying out, calling to him, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”

Jesus hears her and says nothing.

Jesus, who heard the cry of so many.

Jesus, who’s Father in heaven had heard the groans of the Israelite slaves.

Jesus, who responded to people often- and even before they asked---

seemingly ignores her cry.

I wonder how often we have felt like this woman- crying out – wanting an immediate answer.

The Psalms are filled with pleading with God to answer our prayers—“Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer” calls out the third Psalm.

Jesus’ disciples are annoyed by her—she is loud, obnoxious, and persistent.

They say to Jesus, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

She won’t leave us alone.

Take care of this… this…problem—this nuisance.

(How interesting that just earlier when Jesus had fed the 5000 just a few days before- the disciples had urged Jesus to send the people away—and Jesus put it all back on them and said, “NO- you feed them.” )

Here again—they are unwilling to do the work of compassion.

I remember so often- working in Detroit as a missionary – I would be worshipping on a Sunday in my church- the congregants knew me- I was the Bag Lunch Coordinator. Whenever a homeless person wandered into worship they were quick to find me—“Beth—go deal with that”. The homeless person who came in was not a sister/ a brother in Christ to worship God with—no—he was a thing to be dealt with.

Jesus finally responds to the Canaanite woman—“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

This one hits me hard—Wow- Really--- Is Jesus limiting his scope of influence?

She is indeed a lost sheep—but not of the House of Israel.

Yet indeed we know Christ came and died for all.

He was sent first to the Jews, but to all the world to be a light to all the world—Gentiles included. [i]

She is not content with his answer. She pleads again.

This time she kneels before him “Lord, help me!” she says.

This is the second time she has called him Lord—this time she falls to her knees.

Her prayer and supplication become stronger- more fervent.

Jesus replies to her cry for mercy saying,

It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Wow- did he just call her a dog? Yep.

To call a person a dog- whether then or now—was and is a contemptuous insult. Jews often spoke with disrespect about “Gentile dogs”—like the dogs that roamed the street—savage scavengers….

Now- some will make the point- that Jesus uses the “diminutive word for dogs (kunaria) - the kunaria were not the street dogs, but the little household pets, not the pariah-like” mangy dogs that roamed the streets.[ii]

But a dog is a dog.

Calling someone a dog- does not recognize them as a person.

Who is this Jesus?

What will this woman do? Will she give up hope?

What would you do if you were her?

What would you say?

She could have said a lot.

She could have said—“Who do you think you are – calling me a dog? I’ve heard all about this Jesus- this Son of David- this Messiah! I’ve heard of your kindness and character—you are no Messiah, sir! I am not a dog. I am a person- I am a woman. How dare you call me a dog!”

But she didn’t say that—she didn’t say anything like it.

In fact she didn’t even try to argue with him over calling her a dog.

But she didn’t walk away. She didn’t give up.

Her day began with following Jesus to this place.

She pleaded and prayed. Her faith did not waver—it grew stronger.

Her faith was on fire. Her faith was hot—she had a faith that would not stop.

She had a faith that fired back at Jesus!

Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

He had said it is not right for her to receive bread.

He had said she was a dog --not worth his Mercy.

She said- Oh no- it is right. For, even the dogs- get the crumbs.

“What Christ said, had silenced the disciples; you hear no more of them; they took his answer, but this woman did not.”[iii]

She would not be silenced. Her faith could not be shut down.

Perhaps Jesus knew this all along….

Perhaps Jesus knew---How often had she been mistreated….. How often had she been dismissed as a woman- a Canaanite woman—but today – she would not be silenced. Today she would not let down. She came here with purpose and with faith- not for herself—but for her daughter- driven by love- ready to lay her life down. She came with faith.

Jesus knew this faith. Knew it had been silenced before.

Today that would be changed. Today her faith would transform.

Today, the flame of her faith would burst forth into fire.

Can you imagine standing up to Jesus?

Do you have a faith that can fire back?[iv]

Do you have a love that will not back down?

She did.

And Jesus saw it.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

We still may wonder at this name calling—at why Jesus does this.

What does it mean?

She never contradicts Jesus. She calls him Lord each time-

Every time she addresses Jesus she calls him Lord. Three separate times.

She understands who Jesus is: He is Lord.

Jesus is Lord.

Jesus does not have to fit our expectations for Jesus to be who he is.

He is the Lord.

And maybe this is the fundamental point of faith.

Jesus is Lord.

She is persistent because she has faith in Jesus as her Lord.

What does it mean to call Jesus your Lord?

She kneels, obeys----she allows Jesus the freedom to speak and to act as Lord.

Perhaps- this is why she is not offended

as I have so often felt when reading this scripture.[v]

Maybe she has figured something out--- she has seen and decided that before

the Lord, the King and ruler of All, the one who reigns over Heaven and earth…we are all dogs.

We are all dependent upon Him for everything.

We depend upon the scraps of the table.

He is our Master.

Even a crumb-- is the bread of life.

Her very humility has prepared her to be glad and grateful for crumbs.

Her faith encouraged her to expect crumbs- to be thankful for any morsel- which for her was finest wheat to renew her life and the life of her daughter.

She had faith.

She had a faith that could find encouragement even in that

which is discouraging.[vi]

She had a faith that transformed—she followed Jesus, kneeled, wept, prayed, and she fired back.

She had faith on fire.

In this week as we begin Lent, as we confront that we are ashes this Wednesday- as we journey to the table, as we receive crumbs of mercy

Will WE have this faith?

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus. You are Lord. You see us and know who we are. We are humbled as we kneel in your presence. Transform us and walk with us. Heal us and make us new. Strengthen our faith. Ignite us, burst the flames of our faith into a fire that does not back down. Give us a faith persistent and strong for the mountain tops and lowest valleys. Give us a faith that is honest and true, real and raw, a faith that begs your mercy and receives your grace. In the name of Jesus who is our Lord, Amen.

[i] See Romans 15:8

[ii] William Barclay Commentary

[iii] Matthew Henry

[iv] Inspired by Trygve David Johnson’s article “Faith to Fire Back”


[vi] Matthew Henry

Setting my mind on the Spirit

 It's the first week of Lent.  I decided I wanted to write and reflect more for Lent.   Years ago-- I wrote on this blog more often and ...