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Sermon from the Molehill

(Once a month I get to lead the first part of worship at our church. I welcome the people in my own way. And though the ordained minister gives the full sermon, I give my short reflection on the scriptures for that particular Sunday which leads into the prayer of confession by the congregation. Here is the part I did last week with what I call the sermon from the molehill. The congregation’s responses are in bold print.)                              *  The Caps made it easier to read, since I had just had cataract surgery and for this post I left out the hymns.

Welcome Everyone!
Welcome those of us who have experienced the love of God fleshed out in Jesus.
Welcome those of us who seek to know and serve God better.
Welcome those of us who encounter God in the beauty of nature.
Welcome those of us who experience God in the tenderness and joy of human love.
Welcome those of us who find God in the search for truth called science.
Welcome those of us who find ways to help those in need, regardless of who they may be.
Welcome those of us who fall, but with the grace of God get back up.                          Welcome those of us, who like Thomas, have a hard time believing in miracles, but keeping following Jesus no matter how scared we are.
Welcome those of us who question, but still seek.                                                                Welcome those who are in their  “let’s sample the pleasures of the world” phase of life.      Welcome those who wish they were somewhere  or even “anywhere else” right now.          Welcome all of us here today, because every one of us is a beloved child of God.

TODAY IN THE SCRIPTURE IN GENESIS,21: 14 – 1,                                                                          WE HEAR AND FEEL THE HEARTBREAKING DESPAIR OF HAGAR, WHOSE CHILD IS NOW WITHOUT SHELTER AND FOOD AND EVEN WATER.                                                                      THERE ARE MOTHERS TODAY IN OUR OWN COMMUNITIES LIVING IN THEIR CARS WITH THEIR CHILDREN.
WHO WILL BE THE HANDS AND ARMS OF GOD FOR THEM? WHO WILL EMBRACE THEM IN THE NAME OF JESUS TODAY?

IN TODAY’S GOSPEL OF JOHN , CHAPTER 4: VERSES 7-14,                                                            JESUS OFFERS THE LIVING WATER THAT IS THE LOVE AND GRACE OF GOD TO A WOMAN, WHO IS NOT ONLY DESPISED BY THE JEWS AS A HERETICAL SAMARITAN, BUT IS AN OUTCAST AMONG HER OWN PEOPLE.                                                                          WHO ARE THE OUTCASTS IN OUR WORLD TODAY?                                                                  WHO WILL TAKE THE LOVE OF GOD TO THEM?

JOIN ME NOW IN THE PRAYER OF CONFESSION FOLLOWED BY MOMENTS OF SILENT PERSONAL REFLECTION AND RESPONSE.
Lord, we have lived for ourselves and been blind to you in others. We have turned from our neighbors and refused to share their burdens. We have ignored the pain of the world passing by us – the hungry, the poor, and the oppressed.
Forgive us and free us from our selfishness so that we may hear and respond to your call to love our neighbor. (Moments of Silent Confession)
Forgive us O Lord, and give us the grace to change, we ask in Christ’s name.

WE WERE FORGIVEN WHEN JESUS CHRIST GAVE HIS LIFE FOR US LONG BEFORE WE WERE EVEN BORN. OUR PART IS HEARING AND RESPONDING WHEN GOD IS CALLING US TO GROW AND CHANGE. SO LET US NOW ACCEPT AND REJOICE IN HIS FORGIVENESS AND RESPOND TO HIS CALL TO CHANGE.

WE ARE FORGIVEN! WE ARE FORGIVEN! THANKS BE TO GOD! LORD, OPEN OUR MINDS AND HEARTS AND FILL US WITH THE GRACE TO HEAR AND RESPOND TO YOUR CALL TODAY. AMEN

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Forgiveness, the Heart of Love and the Core of Christianity

In the Gospel of John, when the risen Jesus appears to the frightened disciples, he says something unexpected and amazing. He tells them, if they forgive anyone’s sins, they’re forgiven. But if they don’t, then they aren’t. This isn’t power, this is responsibility. Jesus has spent three years trying to make them understand that receiving forgiveness and forgiving others are inseparable. In his agony on the cross he prays, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” That prayer was not only for all those who played a part in his physical crucifixion that day, but for all of us who continue to crucify him in each other.
The humbling, often heartbreaking, recognition of the harm we have done to someone is designed to bring the life changing acceptance of God’s forgiveness that gives us the grace to forgive others. It’s all one spiritual process. Sometimes, our first clue to what we need to ask forgiveness for is what we cannot forgive in another.                                           And over and over the message is the same: forgiveness is the heart of love, the core of Christianity, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and it’s our commission. And there is no escape clause in the small print even about forgiving repeat offenders. Remember the seventy times seven?
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, Whenever you are praying, forgive if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. This isn’t just a whim of God. It’s a cause and effect that was designed into the human condition.                                                                                                                                   Listen closely. Jesus died so that we might be forgiven, but in order to accept forgiveness, we have to admit humbly and sorrowfully when we need it, so we can be freed by grace to pass forgiveness on. This is the key to the kingdom of heaven that Jesus gave us, because all fall short of the glory of God.

Note:  Forgiving a broken person does not mean allowing them to abuse you or anyone else.  God forgives them, but doesn’t remove consequences that can make them recognize the need to change.

Sources of Grace for Scary Times

This is a break from my series, because so many of us are struggling right now with fear and depression:

So, I am being redundant – again. (That’s a lot of redundancy.)

My two hands-down favorite authors of a spirituality rooted in Jesus, but not religion, are Henri Nouwen and Anne Lamott.

Henri Nouwen writes incredibly healing and understandable theology saturated with the love of God. He chose to spend the latter years of his life living in a community for the mentally handicapped. For an introduction and short overview of his writing, I recommend,” A Spirituality of Living.” Also another short book: Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, which changed some of my deeply rooted prejudices.  He was a Catholic priest, but wasn’t limited by it. 🙂

For our nitty-gritty stuggle to live a grace filled life, I don’t think there’s a better author than Anne Lamott. Anne’s spiritual journey has been through alcoholism, abortion, single motherhood, great losses, and a terrible bitterness toward her mother on to the freedom of self- honesty, the grace of humor, and an always growing acceptance of others. She finds this amazing grace from a personal relationship with a risen Jesus, who is still calling us, healing us, walking with us, forgiving us, and suffering for and with us. I think she belongs to a small Presbyterian church with a woman minister. Or it might be non-denominational or both. She’s definitely eclectic in her spirituality. She has written novels, but I much prefer her autobiographical books. She is the most personally honest writer I’ve ever read. Here are several of her books: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Grace (Eventually). She also has a marvelous face-book page that will share to your own page her day to day struggles with discouragement over our current political situation.

I realize that we are all very different and these authors might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I am by personality focused on relationship, but not everyone is. These authors’ writings are what help sustain me in my journey by always reminding me of my greatest (though not, only) source of grace, the Love of God expressed in Jesus.

Tattoo for an Old Lady

I’m seriously thinking of getting a tattoo. The problem is that it would have to go either on my back side or my stomach to have enough space. That would defeat the purpose, because I couldn’t see it well in either place. And the whole point would be to have it as a permanent and visible reminder. Here it is:
Tips for Mental Health
Feelings are not facts!
Seven important things we need to develop:
1. The will to bear both physical and emotional discomfort (and only whine on Monday).
2. The courage to make mistakes, admit them, take responsibility for them, learn from them, ask and accept forgiveness, and then for goodness sake, MOVE ON!
3. Patience with small gains.
4. The will to do what down deep, we know we should.
5. The determination to stop digging up the past. (If necessary, write it down, cremate it and let the wind carry it away.)
6. The energy and caring to help others. (Look around: we are surrounded by invisible lonely people. We don’t have to fix them, just let them know we see them.)
7. The wisdom to not let the perfect defeat the good.

God’s Terrible Taste

I had a somewhat amusing, slightly terrifying thought this morning. God loves both Trump and Hillary equally and unconditionally. God loves because of who God is, not because of who we are. I’ve always said God has terrible taste, because God loves everyone. God loves sinners and saints, the smart and the stupid, the kind and the cruel, the sane and the insane, the crook and the law-abiding. Boy! That means if God has His/Her way, heaven is going to be as diverse as earth. I guess I better start forgiving a lot of people, so I can fit in with all of the above. I find I can forgive people if I can picture them as a child with a childhood that was unbalanced between love and the reality of there being consequences of our choices. Often, too much love and no consequences has pretty much the same effect as too little love and unrealistic expectations. Both are impossible to outgrow without the grace of recognizing both God’s love and the consequences of our choices. The present friendship and cooperation between Bill Clinton and the Bushes show how the responsibilities of the office of President obviously challenge Presidents to outgrow their limited viewpoint. So, regardless of whom you vote for, pray for both of them to experience God’s love and be freed to become the person God created them to be, whether they are in or out of political office.

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The Love of God

The Love of God is the only thing
of any importance at all.
The Love of God is so incredibly different
and beyond compare
that it boggles our minds to believe in it,
never-the-less accept it.
No matter how much we have been loved
by family and friends,
no matter how famous and wildly adored
by the multitudes,
nothing has ever been more than
a barely glimpsed shadow
of the Love of God.
The Love of God is all that is necessary.
We need nothing more
than to know the unconditional love of God
with our whole mind,
to experience it with an open heart
until our spirit is so filled
with it, that we simply pass it on
by letting it overflow.
We begin to sense this Love of God
when we consider
the possibility that the creator of the universe
chose to walk in our skin,
to experience the frustrating and fearful limits
of being human,
being born under crushing political oppression,
a scorned minority,
bearing physical exhaustion and bodily pain,
the heartbreak
of being abandoned and even betrayed
by his only friends,
publicly ridiculed, tortured and killed,
even taking the
leap of faith into the darkness of death
to show us there is more,
because of His Love.
The love of God can free us to see ourselves
exactly as we are,
to accept our own need for forgiveness
without guilt, just true sorrow
that brings a joy that sets us free from fear
and gives us grace to change.
The Love of God begins to free us to forgive
both ourselves and others.
The Love of God heals us of the crippling wounds
that stunt our growth in love.
The Love of God takes our mustard seed of good
and nurtures it with grace.
The Love of God builds our faith and sets us free
to die and live again.
The Love of God is
personal, unconditional, and eternal.
All else fails.
There is nothing greater than
the Love of God expressed in Jesus,
the Love of God for you.

The Commandments: Humanity’s Keys for Survival/The Beatitudes: Our Handbook for Freedom to Love

I’m pretty sure that law and the concept of sin and consequences were created to try to help us live in the groups we need to survive and prosper. Society is a two edged sword. It keeps us from having to do everything for ourselves from fighting off wildlife, planting, harvesting, to creating clothes and shelter, thus giving us time to think, create, explore, and ask questions about the why, not just the how. But, since humanity is a work in progress…..the old adage, that there’s both a goody and a baddy to everything, holds true for society. Society helps us survive physically, but it also challenges us to learn to love.
The commandments were first of all, simply practical. The laws were aimed at keeping us alive, both as individuals and humanity, long enough to become loving. Whatever the Intelligence called God is, that created and nourishes life, it lives within each of us. It is a source of grace to become more loving, than competitive and combative. And we are like cells in a body. Each of us not only affects those closest to us, we affect the whole for better or worse, even the generations following us.
Self-honesty and understanding, rather than guilt, are the beginning of learning to love. And those take courage and grace. The divorce rate makes it obvious we haven’t become enough like Jesus to even love those closest to us, never-the-less those different from us or even “against” us. The commandments are the basic tools of survival for society. But, Jesus showed us the next level through teaching and living the spirituality of the Beatitudes. They call us beyond the fundamentals of the Commandments and just survival. They call us to freedom, the freedom to love others.
Caring is prayer. Prayer is in the intention, whether expressed in words, thoughts, feelings, candles, symbols, acts of kindness, or forgiveness. There is power in prayer. But both wisdom and love are needed to use the power for others, to understand that all creation, without exception, is one.
Jesus is a turning point in humanity’s journey. He fleshed out a love that sacrifices for not only the weakest physically, but the weakest spiritually. This is not survival of the fittest.
His resurrection also illustrated that this life span isn’t all there is. Jesus is the living example of the potential of God’s grace even within our own humanity.
His resurrection shows us death is simply a door to eternity. When we believe this, it gives us a very different value system than death as the finish line. And His openness and love for all show us the way to overcome the finality of death.

The Freedom of Forgiveness

If we can forgive that another person cannot give us what only God can give, then we can celebrate that person’s gift. (Henri Nouwen)
I think as we go through life, we end up having to forgive our parents, our siblings, our children, our spouse, our friends,- etc. etc. etc.- for not being able to be what we need and want because they aren’t God. And our own neediness isn’t love either, so we end up having to forgive ourselves also. Forgiveness frees us to heal and move on.  
The core of love is forgiveness. (*This doesn’t mean allowing ourselves to be victims.) It means realizing that we all fall short of perfection, so we can let go of bitterness and even self-hate as we continue to become the unique, imperfect, but with the grace of God, slowly ever more loving, person God created us to be

The Wounded Prodigal Within Us

From Henri Nouwen’s  A Spirituality of Living

“We all have wounds…….It is a feeling of loneliness that lurks behind our successes, a feeling of uselessness that hides under all the praise we receive…….that makes us grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give. If we want other people to give us something that only God can give, we become a heavy burden.”

Nouwen goes on to say: “I love Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son. The father holds his child, touches his child, and says, ‘You are my beloved. I’m not going to ask you any questions. Wherever you have gone, whatever you have done, and whatever people say about you, you’re my beloved. You can come home to me whose name is Compassion, whose name is Love.’

Nouwen says, “ If we keep that in mind, we can deal with an enormous amount of success as well as an enormous amount of failure without losing our identity, because our identity is that we are the beloved. Long before our father and mother, our brothers and sisters, our teachers, our church or anyone else touched us in a loving or wounding way —— long before we were rejected by some person or praised by someone else-that voice was there. ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.’

That love was there before we were born and will be there after we die. A life of fifty, sixty, seventy, or a hundred years is just a little moment in which we have been given time to say, ‘Yes, I love you too.’ ”

Henri Nouwen was a priest theologian/author who toward his later years went to live and minister in a settlement for the mentally challenged.
This quote is from a tiny gem of a book put together from insights from his other books, called A Spirituality of Living.

Does Justice Require a Hell?

It is okay to be who you are as long as you are alive, because you are still becoming the person you were created to be. It’s important to know that, because otherwise you have to pretend- even to yourself- that you are perfect and don’t need to grow and change. It’s a lifelong process, a dance between grace and the limits of the hand we were dealt, that probably will still be happening at our moment of death.
I don’t know about afterward……I’m personally counting on Jesus, the expression of the unconditional Love of God, being God’s promise of forgiveness for those bad choices I made along the way to becoming the person I am meant to be. Remember the Prodigal Son story.
So, I was really struggling this week with the statement by a writer I respect: “That if God is just, there has to be a hell.” I’m wondering if that depends on your definition of “just.”
Justice to me means recognition of an evil that brings about change. The evil can be either personal or societal.
I don’t see it as a “get even” kind of thing. Plenty of people have hurt me, just as I have hurt others, but I don’t need them to suffer for it. I just want them to recognize it and sincerely regret it enough to not do it again to me or anyone else. I figure that’s what God wants from us.
I do suspect from my personal experience that a “balancing” plays out in life here in a lot of ways. Sometimes when someone hurts me, I have a sudden memory of having done the same thing to someone else. Depending on what it is, I may laugh, sigh, or feel heartbroken about my own blindness. But it frees me to not only let go of the hurt and temptation to judge, but to avoid doing it again myself.
I believe the whole point of justice isn’t retribution. Justice is about recognition, regret, forgiveness and change. It seems to me that in many ways it’s a dying to self and that we experience a lot of deaths and resurrections before the big one.

One note: Acts have consequences.  The reason there are “Do Not” commandments is that those things have negative consequences not only for others, but for those who do them. The rules are for everyone’s protection. I believe the retribution is intrinsic and comes in this life.

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