(CNN) “Just a few miles from Columbine High School, gunfire echoed through the hallways of yet another Colorado school. This time, it was the STEM School Highlands Ranch near Denver. Authorities believe two students, a male and a female, used a pair of handguns to open fire in two classrooms Tuesday afternoon. An 18-year-old student just days away from graduation was killed. Eight other students were shot but survived.”
If you’re like me, you’re saying, “Not again!” I find I’ve seen variations of this news so many times in the last few years that in spite of how much I care, I sometimes feel like running out of the emotional energy it takes just to grieve one more time. After Columbine, 20 years ago, I recall having the time to process what happened. Our nation could pause what it was doing–and mourn at a distance for a few days. Now, such tragedy happens so often we’d be in permanent pause mode if we grieved with the victims for a few days after every mass shooting. That’s hard to process! I think our brains are built to process life’s sorrows as a villager. Taking in our entire nation’s hurt all at once is too much.
This Sunday’s Scripture from the book of Acts shows Peter–a forgiven follower of Jesus, who’d denied Jesus three times, abandoned Jesus on the cross, and carried a lot of guilt. But, Jesus set him free to live again and to make a difference in the world again, a person at a time. In Acts 9:36-43, Peter was called upon to help a hurting family. A special woman named Tabitha had died. Peter, prayed over her body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” Miraculously she opened her eyes. Peter gave her his hand and raised her up.
You and I may not be able to pray away the frequent mass shootings. We’ll cast our votes for people we hope can come up with ways to make such things less likely. But, then it’s important to remember you and I can still pray for others near to us. We can still take others by the hand and help them up when they’ve fallen. We can’t save the world. But, Jesus didn’t ask us to. Jesus asks us to love our neighbor–face to face, one person at a time; to do what we can with what we have and pray God will take care of the rest.
Tonight Grace Church has a informational gathering on the risks and effects of e-cigarettes and vaping. Our hope is it might prevent someone from getting started in a dangerous addiction. Maybe it will help someone who has started find the wherewithal to step away. We do what we can where we are and take others by the hand where they are. May God give us energy and persistence to be found faithful doing what we can do in Jesus’ name, instead of lamenting what we can not do.
This week I find myself re-reading the resurrection moment Christ has with Peter. Christ finds a way to talk with Peter about the three times Peter denied even knowing Jesus. Jesus resurrection isn’t complete unless it also bring healing to others. So, Jesus finds a way to talk with Peter, offer healing forgiveness and give Peter a purpose. Peter’s new purpose is to feed Jesus’ sheep (John 21:15-19).
We know Christ’s sheep are his followers, but I found myself wondering what sheep actually eat and how much they eat?
So, as I was doing some research on sheep, I happened to look at the logo on the top of the page I was reading from–and saw the Penn State Panther (Nittany Lion). The irony wasn’t lost on me and reminded me of a recent conversation. I was talking with a Mom who was feeling like it was time to start attending a church again. She knew she needed to be fed spiritually. But, she was afraid that if she brought her kids to a church, someone might pounce if her kids misbehaved. She was afraid those who were called to feed Jesus’ lambs might actually cause hurt. I prepared for my next conversation with the Mom by carrying Grace’s laminated welcome to parents with children for when I bumped into her again. It’s in each pew and says we know kids aren’t perfect and we don’t expect them to be. For that matter, adults aren’t perfect, and I hope we don’t expect that either. Take it a step further and Jesus original followers weren’t perfect. But, that didn’t stop Jesus from loving them, being patient with them, forgiving them, and giving them high and holy purposes.
I did get the chance to share the welcome and I hope some day we’ll see the woman and her children in church. Whether that woman decides to try out Grace or not, I invite us all to remember church can be a scary place, so we have to go the extra mile to show people we aren’t panthers if we wish to be part of feeding Jesus’ sheep.
Ask God to help you to be gentle with others and yourself–just like Christ is a gentle shepherd.
Wednesday evening our Song of the Soul was “Are Ye Able,” with its refrain, “Lord, we are able, our spirits are thine, remold them make us, like thee divine. Thy guiding radiance, above us shall be, a beacon to God, to love and loyalty.” While exploring the history of the song, we also took a look at the prayer purposely placed next to the hymn. It’s a prayer for overcoming adversity. We’ve reached that point in Lent when we remember Jesus’ followers were rather bold in saying, “Lord, we are able.” Because, like us, they were prone to failure. In other words, on our own, we aren’t able. We need, as AA aptly puts it, a “Higher Power.”
Unfortunately, there is another thing that often comes with knowing we fail; that is feeling unworthy or unlovable. So, last night we not only pondered the disciples falling asleep in the garden and disappearing as the cross drew near; we also pondered the post-Easter words. “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not.” Have you ever heard those words echo a whisper of forgiveness? Sometimes I re-imagine Jesus showing up to his followers after they/we fail. “Don’t be afraid, I haven’t abandoned you.” “Don’t be afraid, I have forgiven you.” “Don’t be afraid, today is a new day and I will help you do what you cannot do on your own.”
Lent reminds us of our deep need. Easter reminds us God in Christ wants to help us to overcome what we can not overcome on our own. With God’s helps and strength we are able. Let that promise be your strength. Pray each day that God might give you the opportunity to whisper that beautiful truth into another’s life.
If you wish to encourage another on life’s journey, invite someone you know who could use a blessing to worship this Sunday. The message of God’s life transforming love will fill the sanctuary in song and word. Grace choir has been hard at work practicing a Cantata that shares the hope and beauty of God’s promises.
Blessings, Pastor Roger
It seems we’ve happened upon a theme at Grace. Last night at Lenten worship we explored the history of “Come as You Are.” You can take a listen at
This next Wednesday we’ll explore the backstory of “I Come to the Garden Alone.” This Sunday the Gospel of Luke will also lead us to a garden that is part of a parable Jesus’ tells. Jesus speaks of a garden that is no longer producing. It’s a garden that the owner is ready to tear up. But, the gardener is a hope-filled, give-it-another-chance person. Sometimes it’s not easy to “come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses” because we don’t feel worthy. That’s especially true after we wrong someone or embarrass ourselves. Sometimes it’s not easy to believe we can actually “Come as We Are” into God’s presence because we know we haven’t been our best selves. But, the God who created the quintessential garden of Eden and the garden-planet we call earth, is a hope-filled, give-people-another-chance God.
In the parable Jesus shares from Luke 13:1-9, we glimpse the possibility of receiving second-chances ourselves; in fact, I think the parable invites us to share God’s hopefulness by offering second chances to others. We are called to create the place where people can be set free of their past and grow to bear fruits of the spirit again. We have this great opportunity. We can pray to have the attitude of the one-more-chance gardener–and become part of God’s hopes taking root in people’s lives.
Be sure to take a moment to click on the link above to listen to “Come as You Are” by Crowder.
Have a Blessed Week, Pastor Roger
(Image from the Dakota’s Area UM Foundation – Facebook post)
“How often I have wanted to gather you like a hen gathers its chicks under her wings” (Jesus – Luke 13:34b).
The above words of Jesus seem to speak for a God that offers to support, protect, and embrace us. Jesus, continues with the words, “But you didn’t want that.” There are so many reasons we try to go it alone. We could make a mighty long list. However, we can also make a list of the times God reminds us we are not alone.
“The Lord will guide you always” (Isaiah 58:11).
“The Lord is my light and salvation…the Lord is my fortress” (Psalm 27:1).
“The Lord is my shepherd…The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures;
leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. (Psalm 23:1-2)
“Do not be afraid, I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10)
The Bible is filled with reminders that God is always ready to embrace us–restoring our souls even in the worst of times. The Bible doesn’t say life will be problem-free. Far from it. However, a sense of God’s embrace in the midst of trials can go a long way toward protecting our souls from hate, cynicism, hopelessness and despair. Honestly, as a grandpa, I find a mini high-five or a pint-sized hug from my granddaughter has a similar restorative power for the soul.
Let God embrace you in your time of need. A great way of doing this is to read a single-line promise like those above while imagining Jesus beside you, his hand resting on your shoulder. Maybe you’ll glimpse the nail-marks of his previous life. Remember, God carried him through and will carry you through.
Remember, also, you may find yourself sitting with another who needs a reminder God is near. It is OK to ask, “would you like a hug?” It is also OK for someone to say, “no” to a hug. It is OK to ask someone if you can keep them in your prayers. It is OK for someone to say, “no” to that as well. Still, God’s embrace may be felt by another without our hug, or our prayers. Sometimes just our quiet, caring presence for a fleeting moment is enough.
May you feel God’s protection today. May God give you the grace to be a reminder of God’s protection for another when the time is right.
Blessings, Pastor Roger
Ash Wednesday we reflected a bit on the history of “Just as I Am.” (The backstories of all the Songs of the Soul for Lent will be compiled and available for those who want them at the end of Lent). As I was reading about the recent tornadoes in the Southern US the lyrics of “Just as I Am” spoke to me.
Eastern Alabama – Western Georgia Tornadoes
At least 23 dead
At least 800 people homeless…not as in their homes were damaged…
as in they came home to their homes completely gone
Deceased range from age 6 to age 89
“She was the air in my lungs,” father of a 10 year old girl who died.
“Heaven got the sweetest little boy.” “I love you, A.J., for making me smile when I was with you,” mom of a son who died.
“He was my wedding gift. He’d send me flowers at work just to let me know he loved me,” wife of deceased husband.
“She loved dancing. Believe it or not she was dancing on her ultrasound.”
“She was loved by many and she loved in return,” parent of an 8 year old.
“In three days we won’t be the headline of the news cycle. Please don’t forget us—in three days, in three weeks, in three months. It will take years for many of the survivors to have a home again,” First Baptist Pastor
We are vulnerable, fragile, creatures on this sometimes harsh and unpredictable planet. Add in, diseases, poverty, cruelty of other humans and accidents, and its clear life, at times, is tenuous and has more than its share of grief.
“Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me, come to thee. O lamb of God, I come; I come;”
Just as I am was written for comfort and assurance in the brokenness that occurs in our world. Please keep those who are recovering from life’s worst in your prayers this Lent. Remember, when you face trials, God always, always cares and calls you to come rest in that care. Also, know that the 4th Sunday of March is UMCOR Sunday for all UM Churches. Through the United Methodist Committee on Relief you are already part of God’s care in the aftermath of the recent Tornadoes. Supplies and caring UMs were on their way within 48 hours of the devastation–with clean up supplies and listening ears–to hear, heal, and help in the rebuilding of lives over the months to come.
For a modern intrepretation of Just as I Am check out Nicole Nordman’s version.
Lenten Blessings, Pastor Roger
I’ve had an affinity for walking sticks for as long as I can remember. I am pretty sure it has something to do with glimpsing some portrayal of Moses and his “magical” walking staff sometime before I can consciously remember. Older now, I believe all walking staffs and canes have a bit of the holy in them. In one church I served we did a VBS that included a walking stick for everyone; one member had a basswood walking stick carved for me. Another woman gave me her late husband’s homemade cane along with the backstory of where to find and harvest diamond willow. Both pieces of wood whisper holiness every time I look at them. There’s something about walking sticks and canes that speaks of what it is to journey through life. I’ve even known people who’ve named their canes. Any of you known people to name their canes?
I’ve seen my Mom and Dad both go through times of needing to use a cane. I’ve seen both my children each have a time in their life when they needed to use a cane. My wife has a pink cane, purchased in Ohio that she needed to use for a month or so after a side-effect from a medication. I’ve needed to use a cane recovering from a back injury. We’ve never named any of them, though. Recently, I began to wonder what I would name this walking stick I have today. After years I’ve finally found a “new shoe” for its foot—and can use it for hiking again. I think I’ve come up with a name for it.
My Mom, after her hip surgeries, had kind of a love/hate relationship with her cane. Most of you know the relationship. She’d use her cane for a while. Then, she’d get up and walk across the room without it, while it rested on her chair. The beautiful thing about the cane was it was never offended. It always waited for her right where she left it. It never judged her or scolded her. If her cane had been a person: I think it would have been called forgiving, faithful or patient.
Earlier today we heard Jesus’ words. “Treat people the way you wish to be treated.” Be forgiving and faithful because we know how much we appreciate people who are patiently at their best when we are at our worst.
“No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.” One of the privileges I usually have when I officiate at a funeral is to hear people tell the stories of when their loved one was good to them—or helpful in some way to others. People beam with pride when they tell of Dad blowing out the neighbor’s driveway for free or Mom being the neighborhood Mom for all the kids. People heal faster when they have such stories to tell about loved ones. Kindness is a wonderful legacy to leave behind. Jesus says, “If you do good to those who do good to you, or lend expecting repayment, why should you be commended. “Instead, love your enemies. Do good expecting nothing in return.” “Act like this and you will be acting like God acts—generously.”
Our sight is limited. God can always see the entire picture. But, we cannot. There is way too much in this world we don’t know. So, err on the side of kindness. Jesus says, “Be compassionate just as my Father in heaven is compassionate.” Or, in the words of this slide, “You never know what someone is going through. Be kind. Always.”
A cane never asks, “How did you get broken?” A cane never shouts, “What were you thinking?” Or, “What did you learn?” It’s simply there when you reach for it. It’s there to steady your step, help you stand a bit taller, help you rebuild your life. A cane is there to support you when you need it most. Are these the exact things we are called to do as the church?
Jesus is reminding us that even though we come here to learn how to live a right and good life, we are here to work on our own lives, not to learn how to judge others. As Rich Walters says to all Christians, “You better start worrying about your own sins. God isn’t going to ask you about mine.” Or, in Jesus’ own words. “Don’t judge and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn and you won’t be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder every day. Ruminating on another’s flaws is time poorly spent in Jesus’ worldview.
While the world wastes time chasing bunnies down the rabbit holes of judgement, Jesus is inviting us to transform the world. Jesus is inviting us—to let God transform our own lives. “Give and it will be given to you,” Jesus says. “Or, as the slide says, “A person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected.” Give our best to another person and that person just may appreciate it. That person may grow into more of a blessing in our lives than we ever imagined. Give our best to someone, and even if they don’t do their best in return, we’re better for having given our best. We are more whole if we give generously to others. Jesus says, “The portion you give will be the portion you receive.”
“Love your enemies; Do good; Bless; Pray for those who aren’t good to you; Offer your coat and your shirt. Give freely. Be compassionate. Don’t Judge; Forgive; Give a good portion.” These are all the things Jesus tells us will fill our own lives to overflowing.
Last week I shared the definition of Grace as a verb. What does it mean to Grace someone? To grace another is to honor, dignify and bless that person.
I think Jesus is telling us the most inviting thing we can do as Christians is to Grow in Grace. The more gracious we become the more people will notice the good, the light and the kindness. Others will draw near. Grace is – shining so others can see (Jesus) though you.
Let others know they can count on you. Let others know you’ll be there when they reach out. Lend support when needed without judgment. Make it clear to someone you see in church, that if they ever need anything, you’re available for them outside of church. Let anyone outside of church know you’re there for them—no judgment, just grace. We may find, in time, that person will want to be with us in church.
Grace another’s life. And remember God’s promise. The gracious portion you give will be what you receive and more, packed down, firmly shaken and overflowing.
So, I believe I have a name for this hiking staff—ready to join me for a walk with its new shoe. What better name than for a strong, non-judgmental, steady support than…”Grace.”
I recently saw a picture with some feisty words on it. “When I give you my time, I am giving you a portion of my life I will never get back. So don’t make me regret it.” They are not exactly words of kindness, I suspect they are words born of frustration and disappointment; they are likely meant to be a bit humorous. But, they have their sting. Probably, we have all given our time (and sometimes more) only to feel unappreciated or taken advantage of. Sometimes we are stung and we want to sting back. It is natural.
Truth is, sometimes we have to say, “no” for our own health. Yet, as we take care of ourselves, Jesus has these words, “Love your enemies, do good and lend expecting nothing in return. Be compassionate as God is. Don’t judge and you’ll avoid being judged. Don’t condemn and you won’t be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and one day it will be given to you, a good portion…overflowing. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive” (Luke 6:35-38).
As near as I can tell, Jesus is making it clear that generosity is always noticed by God–even if others don’t seem to appreciate it. Some days we may not have it in us to go the second mile. Occasionally, we may be exhausted and need to generously give ourselves permission to say “No.” But, we don’t need to judge others to take care of ourselves. We don’t need a grudge to take care of ourselves. And, we don’t need to let having been taken advantage of keep us from having a generous spirit.
Imagine a picture with these words: “When I give you my time, I am giving you a portion of my life I will never get back–and that’s OK. When I don’t share my time, I’m not judging you. Sometimes, I need time to recharge.” It sounds a bit more grace-filled than “Don’t make me regret it!” It sounds a lot like Jesus’ challenge to love our neighbors as ourselves.
What are other ways you and I might live more grace-filled lives. This Sunday we’ll linger with Luke 6:27-38 during worship to explore other ways Jesus Invites Us to Grow in Grace.
God’s Peace, Pastor Roger