Sunday’s sermon: Why Christian?

Why Christian

  • Last weekend, I was at a conference up in the cities called “Why Christian?”
    • Organized by Nadia Bolz-Weber & Rachel Held Evans
      • Nadia: organizing pastor @ House for All Sinners and Saints in CO, NY Times best-selling author, religious boundary pusher
      • Rachel: NY Times best-selling author, progerssive evangelical who “writes about faith, doubt and life in the Bible Belt”[1]
    • Filled with other female speakers – authors, pastors, and professors – who each spent about half an hour answering a complexly simple question: Why Christian?
      • In the face of the violent, oppressive, overpowering history of Christianity, why continue to be a Christian?
      • In the face of all the negative things that have been said and done in the name of God and Jesus Christ – even up to the present day – why continue to be a Christian?
      • In the face of suffering – your own or the suffering that we witness in the world each and every day – why continue to be a Christian?
      • Why Christian?
      • Simple question, right? Right. And as you can surely imagine, this question has been rolling around in my head for the past week or so. Why am I a Christian?
        • Certainly a questions you’ll have to answer for yourselves as far as individuality of it goes – Why are you still a Christian?
          • My answer: I am a Christian because of investment. Throughout my life, time and time again when I was running on low, God invested in me. God invested strength. God invested love. God invested compassion. And God invested more grace than I ever could’ve imagined possible. When that investment has pulled me up out of the trenches so many times, how can I not choose to invest in God each and every day?
        • Today we’re tackling the related question: Why are we still gathering as Christians together in this place? Why Christian here?
  • Come to church to connect to God
    • Connect to sense of the Holy, wider story/context than our own limited slice of life → Now I’m not saying that church is the only place that we can feel that connection.
      • Other places we connect
        • In nature
        • In Scripture
        • In relationships
        • In solitude
      • But it cannot be denied that there is something profound … something holy … something sacred about the way we find and relate to God in this space.
        • In the words we read and hear and sing and pray here – collective voice when we pray the Lord’s Prayer together
        • In the ways God speaks to us in the sounds as well as the silence
        • In the palpable presence of God in the sacraments
          • The roughness of the bread in our mouths
          • The bitter tang of the juice/wine on our tongues
          • The cool splash of water from the baptismal font
        • It’s about finding God, not about finding answers. → Conference quote – Allyson Dylan Robinson: With God, the closer you get to certainty, the further you get from the truth.
          • Put in a different perspective (also ADR) – from God: I am a mystery. Get over it.
  • Come to church to BE
    • Be presence/reflection of God/Christ for each other and for the world around us
    • Conference quote from Rachel Held Evans: “Our belief carries each other. Can’t pray? Can’t praise? Can’t sing? Can’t profess? Can’t witness today? The people around you can carry you today just as you can carry someone else tomorrow.” → We come to church for the community of faith – community that lifts up and supports and celebrates and cherishes.
      • Hear this call in gospel passage – Matthew 5:13-20
      • Sacred community, sacred investment in one another – not just another social club → plenty of other great places around here to meet for coffee, food, small talk, etc.
        • Do “Christian” here to …
          • Learn from each other
          • Grow with each other
          • Challenge each other
          • Be changed by each other
  • Come to church to EXPERIENCE/FEEL
    • Experience/feel God’s presence and call in our lives → be moved and stirred by that experience (call to ACTION!)
      • Jas is calling this out in our other NT Scripture this morning: James 2:14-26 → It’s important to note that James isn’t talking about works justifying That’s the idea of “works righteousness” that the Reformers raged and rebelled against. We are confirmed and accepted by God through God’s own grace alone. What we do hasn’t, doesn’t, and won’t ever earn God’s love because that love is a free gift. But James is saying that we can’t just take that gift and hoard it away. We’ve got to let it inspire us to go from this place with the fire of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and in our bellies.
        • Go out into our homes, into the community, into the world to make changes
        • Also go out into the congregation – come to church not to simply and half-heartedly “do church” but to “be church” together
          • Implies action
          • Implies investment
          • Implies being engaged in the life and works of this congregation
    • Not always easy/comfortable/safe
      • Conference quote – Emily Scott (pastor – dinner church): Being a Christian is living at the fulcrum of your fear.
      • Not about appearances → IT’S NOT ABOUT BEING/LOOKING PERFECT!!
        • Not put together? GREAT
        • Having a bad day/week/year? SUPPORT
        • Never darkened a doorstep before? WELCOME
        • Jesus didn’t hang out with the perfect people … with the put-together people … with the super strictly religious people … with the always-strong, always-right, always-happy people. Jesus hung out with the outcasts … with the sinners … with the screw-ups and the has-beens and the never-beens and the weak and the struggling.
          • Conference quote – Kerlin Richter (pastor): Christianity is a messy and embodied religion, and I am a messy and embodied person.
  • So why Christian? Why do you continue to claim that name, that identity, that Spirit out in the world? And what does it mean to connect with and be and experience that faith here in this place? What does it look like … what should it look like … what can it look like to be Christians together? Amen.

I don’t normally do this, but I’m including our charge and benediction for this service because it was so crucial to the message. Before the charge and benediction, we listened to the song “Brave” by Sara Bareilles.

Forget fear. Forget hesitation. Forget uncertainty. Forget tired. This morning, I dare you to be salt. I dare you to be light. From the bottom of my heart, I want to see you be brave!

** May the love of God surround you, may the grace of Christ abound in you and through you, and may the intensity of the Holy Spirit astound you day after day. Amen. **

[1] Rachel Held Evans, “About” on http://www.rachelheldevans.com/about. Accessed 21 Sept. 2015.

October newsletter piece

Throughout most of the month of October, we’re going to be talking about stewardship. Last year, we approached it from the standpoint of the different facets of stewardship. We talked about being faithful stewards of our resources (yes … the ‘money’ element), being faithful stewards of our time and talents, and being faithful stewards of our hearts and attention.

This year, we’re going to tackle the idea of stewardship from a different angle. We’re going to spend October talking about the different foci of stewardship. We’re going to talk about stewardship for the purpose of strengthening the church. We’re going to talk about stewardship for the purpose of strengthening mission (both through the church and outside of it). And we’re going to talk about stewardship for the purpose of the strengthening the future.

You may have noticed a key word in all of that: STRENGHTENING.

I know that stewardship often gets relegated to the role of sustaining – helping the church maintain what it’s doing, helping the church “stay afloat,” helping the church do exactly what it’s been doing.

This is “just enough” stewardship, but friends, God didn’t create us to be “just enough” caretakers, and God didn’t create the world for a “just enough” existence.

In the beginning, when God created humanity, God named us as stewards over all the creation.

So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God he created them; male and female God created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “… Be responsible for the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” ~ Genesis 1:27-28

Despite some previous translations, God didn’t say, “Subdue the earth.” God didn’t say, “Perfect the earth.” God certainly didn’t say, “Do whatever you want with the earth.” God named us stewards … caretakers. God made us responsible for every living thing – the plants, the animals, the bugs, the birds, and most certainly each other.

And when God was creating the world one cosmic event at a time, God didn’t sit back and call each period of creation “just enough.” God called it “good.” God called it “prosperous.” God called it “successful.” God called it “pleasing.” I don’t know about you, but none of these substitutions for good speak of “just enough” to me. They speak of fullness. They speak of vastness.

They speak of abundance.

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) If we are to live into the role of truly faithful stewards, we have to shake off this mentality of “just enough” and embrace an attitude of “strengthening abundance.” When we look at the numbers, at the real, honest-to-goodness numbers of how our congregations are doing right now, the bottom line is written in red ink, not black ink. And it’s not because we’re horrendously off-budget for the year. We’re pretty spot-on for spending. Giving is another story.

As we venture ahead as congregations, keep these questions in mind:

How can our stewardship – of our resources as well as our time and our energy – not just maintain but strengthen our church?

How can our stewardship not just maintain but strengthen God’s mission in the world?

How can our stewardship not just maintain but strengthen our future together and the future of the body of Christ?

Pastor Lisa sign

Sunday’s sermon: Words = Power

Power

Texts used: Mark 8:27-38 and James 3:1-12

  • “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” This is what we teach our children when they encounter people in their life who tease them, who use words to bring them down and make them feel bad. We try to take away the authority and force of those words – to minimize their importance and their impact. But as adults, even as we utter these words to give comfort and refuge, we cannot deny that words have power. We know just how truly powerful words can be. → words = power to …
    • Express ourselves
    • Explain and teach, to learn and understand
    • Build up and bring together or to tear down and divide
      • Positive power – Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai continues to celebrate and defend the power of words and learning even after Taliban’s failed attempt to kill her
      • Negative power – fervor and blind devotion and hate stirred up by one of the world’s greatest public speakers: Adolf Hitler
    • We cannot deny that words have power.
      • E.g. – clip from the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring[1]
        • Background: Frodo = hobbit inherited certain ring from his uncle (unaware of ring’s significance/history/power) learns about truly evil, powerful nature of ring joins up with Gandalf (wizard) and others in epic quest to keep the ring out of the enemy’s hands
        • [PLAY CLIP: https://youtu.be/hxz3Yna92zo→ In this moment, Gandalf’s words literally resonate with power. The sky darkens. The earth shakes. Those around him are physically affected by the words that he utters. They cower and grimace and squeeze their eyes shut as if in pain.
        • Commanding illustration of the power that words can have à And be it fantasy or reality, we cannot deny that words have power.
    • Both Scripture readings this morning speak to/illustrate the power that words truly have
  • First: staying/eternal power of Jesus’ words
    • More familiar version of text (pew Bibles): [Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.[2]  Christians for centuries have pondered and prayed over these verses. Can we ever truly deny ourselves? How do we “take up our crosses”? What does it mean to lose our lives to save them? In the many attempts at answers that have arisen throughout history, these words have become the cornerstone for a wide variety of faith practices.
      • Monks and nuns in monasteries – communal living, strict discipline, vows of poverty & chastity, serving those in need
      • Catholic practice of confession
      • Ancient prayer practice of examen – daily exploration of your heart, your actions, your thoughts, and your attitudes in an attempt to get closer to God
      • Incredible acts of service inspired by these words
        • E.g. – “The Secret Millionaire” (TV show)
        • Mahatma Gandhi: The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
      • Jesus’ words from our text this morning: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. … Follow me and I’ll show you how. … Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self.”[3] We cannot deny that words have power.
  • Also in gospel reading – power of testimony
    • Passage begins with Jesus’ seemingly-simple question: Who do the people say I am?[4]
      • Disciples initial reply: John the Baptizer, Elijah, one of the prophets
      • With a little more prompting from Jesus (“Who do you say that I am?”) – Peter’s answer: You are the Christ, the Messiah. first time he’s identified as the Messiah in Mark’s gospel
    • This is certainly a powerful pronouncement and the most easily-recognized testimony in this passage … but it’s not the only testimony. Remember, a testimony is not always about the easy, the acceptable, and the joyful. Testimonies can be about pain and struggle and tension. And so we hear Jesus’ testimony, too: “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religious scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.” He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it.[5]  This is the first of three times throughout Mark’s gospel that Jesus will try to warn the disciples about what is to come.
      • Powerful testimony because of the raw truth in it
      • Powerful testimony because of holy self-sacrifice in it
      • Powerful testimony because of vulnerability in it
      • Jesus’ words here are revealing. They’re profound. They’re striking. They. Are. Powerful. So powerful, in fact, that they cause Peter to “take him aside and rebuke him”[6] which in turns elicits Jesus’ shocking and powerful response: Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.[7]  Now up to this point, the words we’ve talked about have been intentional words – words chosen and spoken deliberately and carefully, words that have been thought out. But this exchange of words is one born of emotion, unbidden and uncontrolled.
        • Imagine disappointment and frustration Jesus must have felt – shared something so intimate, so compelling, and Peter pulls him aside to rebuke him
        • Imagine utter shock Peter must have felt – from the high of “You are the Messiah” crashing down to “Get behind me Satan” in a few short moments
  • We cannot deny that, intentional or unintentional, words have power. Remember what I said just a few minutes ago?  words= power to build up and bring together OR to tear down and divide
    • We are surrounded by words – articles and advertisements, status updates and Tweets, blog posts and memes [explain], news reports and meetings and everyday conversations. (Sermons) Words words words words words. And as we all know, not all those words are positive, lift-you-up words. Anyone who’s ever been bullied will tell you that it’s not just positive words that have power.
      • Cyber-bullying epidemic – statistics[8]
        • Over half of young people report being cyber bullied
        • 1/3 of those who reported being bullied received threats
        • Only 1 of 6 parents are aware of the scope/intensity of cyber bullying that their kids are experiencing
      • And goodness knows bullying extends beyond the realm of cyberspace. – so bad that there’s actually a government website connected to the Dept. of Health and Human services: stopbullying.gov
    • This is what James speaks to in our second New Testament passage this morning: A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything – or destroy it! A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By your speech you can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it … With our tongues we bless God our [Creator]; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women [God] made in [God’s own] image.[9]  We know that these words – these powerfully negative, powerfully destructive words are out there in the world. We’ve felt the sting of them ourselves. We’ve watched our friends, our family, and our loved ones suffer the sting, too. We know how painful and damaging these words can be. In fact, it can be argued that negative words can actually be more powerful than positive words. Studies have shown that it takes 5-6 positive comments to balance out one, single negative comment.[10]
  • Friends, we cannot deny that words have power. But we can choose to be a presence to powerfully counteract the negative instead of someone who adds to it. When we hear others tearing down, we can choose to proclaim the words to build up again. We can choose to be the cool, clear water that washes away the polluted mud. We can choose to be God’s affirmation – to be God’s “I love you,” God’s “yes,” God’s “peace be with you.” And we cannot deny that those words have power, too. Amen.

[1] “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” directed by Peter Jackson, distributed by New Line Cinema 19 Dec. 2001 (USA).

[2] Mk 8:34-35 (NRSV).

[3] Mk 8:34-35 (The Message).

[4] Mk 8:27.

[5] Mk 8:30-32.

[6] Mk 8:32 (NRSV).

[7] Mk 8:33 (The Message).

[8] “Cyber Bullying Statistics 2014” at http://nobullying.com/cyber-bullying-statistics-2014/. Modified Sept. 10, 2015, accessed 12 Sept. 2015.

[9] Jas 3:5-6, 9.

[10] Jack Zenger and Jopseh Folkman. “The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio” in Harvard Business Review online, Mar. 15, 2013, https://hbr.org/2013/03/the-ideal-praise-to-criticism/. Accessed 12 Sept. 2015.

Sunday’s sermon: A Blind Man’s Story

Lord I Believe

Texts used: Psalm 23 and John 9:1-41

Sometimes, instead of writing a “conventional sermon” (whatever that might mean), I like to take a text and imagine what living in that text might look like. What else could the story say? What might the people inside the story be saying, feeling, doing, thinking? What does the inside of the story look like? Sound like? Smell like? And in that imagining, I expand on the Scripture to help you place yourself in the story as well in the hopes that you might hear God’s word in a new way and be inspired. This is one of those stories …

The words still rang in his ears:

Get out of here! Leave this synagogue, and don’t bother coming back. You aren’t welcome here anymore.

He had been thrown out of the synagogue – actually thrown out! This was the community where he’d grown up – where he’d worshipped and observed the Sabbath with his parents and sat mourning the death of his grandparents. And now he could never go back.

The man continued wandering the streets of Jerusalem as he thought about the way things had gone, turning the recent events over and over in his mind. What a whirlwind it had been! The day had started out like any other – with him sitting by the side of the road begging passers-by for whatever coins they could spare. Because he’d been blind since birth, begging had been his whole life, so he sat by the side of the road every day, relying solely on the mercy of other people.

That’s exactly where he had been when this whole crazy mess had begun.

He’d been sitting by the side of the road begging when he heard what sounded like a fairly large group approaching. Large groups were always a bit of a wild card for the blind man. Sometimes, when one person in a large group stepped out and gave the man a coin or two, many others followed suit. But sometimes large groups meant trouble – people who wanted to cause him harm and steal whatever meager coins he’d been able to collect that day or Roman soldiers looking for someone to harass. As the man listened to this large group approach, he wondered what was in store for himself.

Looking back, he could say with all honesty that he never could have guessed.

As the group approached, he heard one of them say, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”[1] The man groaned inwardly. He’d heard this question so many times before, and he hated it. It was common belief that for someone to be disabled like him, either he or his parents must have done something wrong – something to earn God’s punishment. But he had trouble understanding or believing this. He had been blind since the moment he entered the world. Could he truly have sinned while still in the womb? And what about his parents – two wonderful people who had cared for him his entire life? He knew no one was perfect, but he could hardly believe that either one of them had done anything terrible enough to make him deserve this.

And so it was a relief for him when he heard the Rabbi’s reply: “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”[2] And then he heard one of the other people in the group call the rabbi by his name: Jesus. When he heard this, a little spark of hope lighted in the man’s heart.

Before he could ask Jesus any questions, the blind man heard someone spitting on the ground. What is going on? he wondered. And then he felt the mud being smeared across his eyes. It was warm, and the hands that applied it were gentle but firm – calloused and strong and sure. Even though the blind man knew that he should probably be trying to get away – I mean, who smears mud on a blind guy’s eyes?? – something kept him rooted in place. Instead of feeling annoyed or afraid, he felt calm. He felt peaceful. He felt … tingly. His eyes were tingling. He opened his mouth to say something, but Jesus spoke to him: “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam.”[3] The Pool of Siloam was famous for its healing properties, but for whatever reason, no matter how many times he had immersed himself in the past, they’d never worked for the blind man.

He was about to tell Jesus this, but something stopped him. There was something different about this man, this gentle but determined Rabbi. So the blind man got up and began to make his way to the Pool of Siloam. When he reached the pool, he felt his way along the limestone edges until he felt first his toes, then his ankles, then his shins, and finally his knees enveloped by the cool, refreshing water. The blind man cupped his hands, dipped them into the pool, and brought some of the water to his face. He thought that, if nothing else, he could at least get this mud off of his eyes. He cupped his hands and brought the water to his face again and again, enjoying the feel of the water as it ran down his cheeks and trickled off his chin.

Finally, the blind man knew he had to get out of the pool – to make space for others who were also seeking healing. He used the tips of his fingers to rub away the final bits of mud that were clinging to his eyelashes, and opened his eyes.

He could see.

He could see!

Everything was so startlingly bright that he immediately squeezed his eyes shut, and then he opened them again right away, afraid that he had been imagining things. But no, he wasn’t imagining. He could SEE!! He quickly got out of the pool, and as he made his way toward home, his vision became clearer and clearer. The fuzzy edges of things began to solidify. He slowly became more and more accustomed to the light. It was probably the most difficult journey the man had ever taken because even though he was trying to hurry home, he kept stopping to look at all of the amazing, beautiful things along the way. There were carts in the market full of the most beautiful, exotic-looking foods! There were children running through the streets with the most beautiful smiles on their faces! There were women winding their way through the crowds wearing dresses made out of the most beautiful colors!

Finally, the man found himself on his street. He smelled the smells he always smelled at home. He heard the sounds he always heard at home. This must have been it. He slowly walked down the street, running his hand along the fronts of the houses and counting until he came to the fourth doorway on the right – his house. It was small and made of pale mud bricks – bricks that he’d run his hands over a thousand times. They were beautiful, too. He walked into the house, and there was a woman standing in the kitchen and a man standing in the common area.

Before either of them could say anything, the man declared, “I can see!”

Both his parents stopped what they were doing. His mother’s mouth hung open just a little. His father’s eyes went first to his face, then to his mother’s face, then back to the man’s own face. Then both of them came toward him, arms outstretched. They hugged him. They touched his eyes. In the midst of it all, the man told them about what had happened that morning with Jesus and his disciples.

His mother and father were so overjoyed by this miraculous healing that they dragged their son outside and shouted to all the neighbors, “Look! Look! Our son was blind but his eyes have been opened! He can see! He can see!” All the neighbors came out of their houses and marveled at this healing. Some of them didn’t even believe that he was the same man! They were convinced that he was just someone who looked like him, but many of his other neighbors recognized him. “Of course it’s him,” they said. And the man himself kept saying, “I am that man. Truly, I am that man.” Like his parents, the neighbors were all curious about how this amazing thing had happened, so they asked him again and again, “How did your eyes get opened?”[4] And so the man recounted over and over what had happened with the mud and the pool and the miracle. “Where is he? Where did Jesus go?” his neighbors asked. And he answered them truthfully: “I don’t know.”[5]

As he was retelling his story yet again, the man saw another group of people coming down the street. As the crowd parted for these men, the man realized that they must be the Pharisees. They explained to the man that because today was the Sabbath, it was sinful for Jesus to have done the work of mixing the mud, spreading it on his eyes, and healing him. “God said we are to rest on the Sabbath,” one of them reminded him sternly.

Then the Pharisees proceeded to question the man over and over and over again about what had happened. And over and over and over again, the man repeated the same story: “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”[6] As the questioning continued, it became clear to the man that the Pharisees were very upset with Jesus. Finally, one of the Pharisees declared in exasperation, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath!” Before the man could respond, another one of the Pharisees countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?”[7] And they argued amongst themselves for a short time before finally turning to the man and saying, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?”[8]

The man thought for a moment. Certainly, those with Jesus had called him “Rabbi,” so he must be a teacher. But he did so much more than any of the other rabbis the man had ever known. He must have been more than a rabbi, so he finally answered them: “He is a prophet.”[9] The Pharisees simply shook their heads at this and continued arguing amongst themselves. As they argued, the man heard them discussing whether or not he had truly been born blind in the first place. “You never know,” one of them whispered loudly. “This could be one big, elaborate hoax to further Jesus’ agenda!”

The man could barely believe his ears. Were they serious?! Why would he lie about something like that for so long? He couldn’t imagine what might possibly be gained by a deception like that. He was about to interject into their conversation and tell them exactly what he thought about their suspicions when one of them called out, “Where are this man’s parents? We want to speak with them!” Once the man’s father and mother had been brought forward, the Pharisees asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”[10] The man felt sorry for his parents. It was obvious that they were fearful of any repercussions that might stem from their response. It had already been established by the Pharisees that anyone who supported this Jesus person – anyone who agreed with the whispers and rumors that this rabbi might be the long-awaited Messiah – would be driven out of the synagogue. In quaking voices, they said to the group, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see – haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes.” They took a deep breath as if strengthening their resolve, then quietly added, “Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.”[11]

And so the Pharisees turned again to the man who had been born blind, and again they questioned him over and over. The man could tell that they were waiting for him to say something – something negative and disparaging about Jesus – but the man refused to do so. In his frustration, one of the Pharisees finally declared, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an imposter!”[12] Even then, the man remained firm. “I know nothing about that one way or the other,” he replied steadily. “But I know one thing for sure: I was blind … I now see.”[13] Again they came at him with their questions. “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” And again the man answered them. Again and again and again, he answered them. Finally, his patience ran out. “I’ve told you over and over,” he shouted, “and you haven’t listened! Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”[14]

Instantly, the man could tell that he had touched a very raw nerve. All of the Pharisees turned very red in the face. Their searching eyes became hostile eyes, and they crossed their arms over their chests as if to ward off his words. “You might be a disciples of that man,” they said venomously, “but we are disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”[15]

For the man, this was the last straw. He could hardly believe these men. This Jesus – whoever he was – had performed a miracle and given the man the sight that had been denied him since birth. He could see! How were the Pharisees missing this? He stepped forward and raised his voice so that everyone around could hear him. “This is amazing!” he shouted. “You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does God’s will.” As he was speaking, the man could see the Pharisees getting angrier and angrier, but he just couldn’t seem to keep the words inside any longer. He continued. “That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of – ever! If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”[16]

The moment he finished, the man knew he had gone too far. The Pharisees exchanged meaningful glances, and then, slowly and deliberately, one of them stepped forward. He said to the man, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!”[17] His voice rose with each word. “Get out of here! Leave this synagogue, and don’t bother coming back!” His last words were firm and deadly quiet: “You aren’t welcome here anymore.”

That was it. As the man who had been blind wandered through the city, he knew that he had been cut off from his community for good. But there was also a small voice inside him that was saying, “But what you said was true.” And so, having nowhere else to go, he continued to walk the streets of Jerusalem, one of his favorite Scriptures from worship running through is mind: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. … Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.[18] I could sure use some of that comfort right now, God, he thought.

As he was walking, a familiar group approached the man. It was Jesus and his disciples. Jesus came up to the man and put his hand on his shoulder. “I heard about what happened at the synagogue,” Jesus said. “Tell me, friend, do you believe in the Son of Man?”[19] The man was silent for a long time. Finally, he said to Jesus, “I have just been driven from the only community I’ve ever known. I have nothing. I am in need of something to believe in. Who is this Son of Man? Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”[20] Jesus smiled with warm, kind eyes and said gently, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”

And the man knew. He knew that the rumors and whispers he’d heard about this Jesus man were true. He knew that the Pharisees were wrong. And he knew that this man was with the Messiah. Another part of the psalm began running through his mind: He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. … You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.[21] The man took a deep, shuddering breath. “Lord,” he said, “I believe.” And with a heart overflowing with gratefulness and praise and love, he worshiped him.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long! Amen.

[1] Jn 9:2.

[2] Jn 9:3-5.

[3] Jn 9:7.

[4] Jn 9:10.

[5] Jn 9:12 (paraphrased).

[6] Jn 9:15.

[7] Jn 9:16.

[8] Jn 9:17 (emphasis added).

[9] Jn 9:18.

[10] Jn 9:19.

[11] Jn 9:20-21.

[12] Jn 9:24.

[13] Jn 9:25.

[14] Jn 9:26-27.

[15] Jn 9:28-29 (emphasis added, with some additions).

[16] Jn 9:30-33.

[17] Jn 9:34.

[18] Ps 23:1, 4.

[19] Jn 9:35.

[20] Jn 9:36 (paraphrased and with additions).

[21] Ps 23:2, 5b.

Sept. 2015 newsletter piece

3-Day

3 days.
60 miles.
1 purpose: to end breast cancer.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started writing this month’s newsletter piece just to delete it and start all over again. Those 3 days – those 60 miles – were so full.

They were full of stories – funny stories and touching stories, our stories and the stories of others that we met along the way.
They were full of emotions.
They were full of challenges …
and laughter …
and expectations …
and cheering …
and pit stops …
and medical tents …
and blisters …
and joy …
and determination …
and triumph.

See what I mean? It’s hard for me to condense all of that into a single page. But it was such a formative experience that I can’t not share it this month. So though this may come off as scattered, here goes …

There were certainly times when I struggled. I mean, the 3-Day looks great on paper – empowering and amazing and, while challenging, not impossible. It was easy to sign up and get the ball rolling. Thank you, internet. Click, click, click … and, done! And I found ourselves

And then Friday morning rolled around. Suddenly Jenny and I were standing with the crowd at the opening ceremony and they were saying, “LET’S GO!!” And we were walking. And walking. And waking. And I knew I hadn’t done nearly enough training to get me through unscathed.

But one of the t-shirts that I had made had a passage from Scripture on the back:

“God puts a little heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less. That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! … It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going.”
~ 2 Corinthians 5:5-7

Truth be told: I fully admit to drooping my head and dragging my feet, especially toward the end of the 2nd day (the longest day – more than 23 miles).

But no matter what, throughout those 3 days and 60+ miles, there’s a lot that Jenny and I had to trust in.

Every time we came to a heavily-trafficked intersection, we trusted in our safety crew to get us across the street.

Every time we visited the medical tent (which I admittedly did much more often than Jenny did), we trusted that the women and men who were volunteering their time knew how to help us with our aches and pains.

Every time we came back to camp, we trusted that our stuff would be there.

And every time we took a step, we trusted.
We trusted that we would be able to take the next step … and the next one … and the next one.
We trusted in each other.
We trusted in our ability to make a difference.
We trusted in God to walk alongside us.
And we continue to trust in a future free of breast cancer.

That kept us going …

And that still keeps us going.

Pastor Lisa sign

P.S. – For the rest of the stories, just ask! 🙂