Life in the Wilderness

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The identity of the Israelites is forged in the wilderness.  When God delivers them from slavery in Egypt, they must travel through the wilderness to reach the Promised Land.  Wilderness can be a scary place.  It is a place where we must face our own vulnerabilities, even our inner “wild beasts,” and learn to rely on God.

Sunset Crater volcanic remains in Arizona

Exodus 16:9-12: Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’ ” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ” [1]

Each year, Lent begins with the story of Jesus in the wilderness.  According to the gospel of Mark, in the wilderness, Jesus must face “wild beasts.”  Yet, even as he is facing the wild beasts, angels are serving him or ministering to him.

Grab a sheet of paper.  Take a moment to depict your “wilderness” either through a sketch or doodle or through a “word stew” (placing words on the page that, in your mind, are synonymous with “wilderness”).  What “wild beasts” do you encounter in your wilderness? 

When the Israelites are in the wilderness, they consistently grumble and panic, despite the fact that God cares for them and provides for them consistently.  Jesus, however, reveals a different way of living in the wilderness.  It doesn’t involve ignoring the wild beasts.  But Jesus can endure the wilderness because he trusts that, even amongst the wild beasts, God will watch over him.  Being a Christian doesn’t mean we will never find ourselves in the wilderness.  It does mean that, in the wilderness, we are never alone and can trust and watch for signs of God’s care and God’s messengers of grace. Can you name a wilderness you’ve been through? 

The word “angel” simply means “messenger.”  Who did God send as an angel to help you when you were in your wilderness? 

Prayer from the United Methodist hymnal:  O God our deliver, you led your people of old through the wilderness and brought them to the Promised Land.  Guide us, the people of your Church, that, following our Savior, we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.  Amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ex 16:9–12.

The Fallow Soil of the Soul

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The pandemic has caused things to be different for many of us, but some of those changes are less predictable than others.  My schedule is just as busy but is a bit more flexible.  Whether for that reason or others, I find myself walking much more this winter at Celery Bog.  This has been a particularly dreary winter.  We haven’t seen the sun much.  As someone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, that can create significant problems for me.  But walking around Celery Bog, on those cloudy days when the air lays heavy above the bog, I have found a stunning beauty: the trees, barren of their leaves, rise majestic to the sky.  One can smell the dampness of the earth as it returns to itself, the ground pressed firm by decaying leaves.  It is so quiet, so empty, yet so beautiful.

Fallow was the word that came to my mind this week.  I looked it up to see how it was defined.  One definition I found focused on three things that captured my attention:  Fallow ground is ground left unsown for a period of time in order to recover its nutrients and restore fertility as part of crop rotation or to avoid surplus production.  During the winter, while Celery Bog appears quiet and barren, something is still happening.  Nature is restoring itself.

I have to wonder if my newly discovered beauty in the bog and this pandemic are connected.  What if we thought about this as simply a part of nature’s cycle?  What if we considered our lives to be fallow soil during this COVID season?  Fallow ground is ground at rest and many of us in America don’t get enough rest.  During the spring lockdown, statistics revealed that the lack of commute time was resulting in increased sleep for many sleep-deprived Americans.

In Hebrew scripture, God commands a time for rest.  God calls it Sabbath or Shabbat.  He commands it for us and for the land.

NRS Exodus 23:10 For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

Many of us, I confess myself included, have tried to carry on life as usual during this pandemic.  We look to technology to help us do everything we were doing before.  But what if we didn’t do everything we were doing before?  What if we could be like the floor of the forest or the stark trees in the bog, embracing this not as a time to produce, but to rest? 

Check out this week’s 20 at Twilight video post to pray and reflect around this scripture and this question.

What’s New

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Seems like most of us were eager to put 2020 in the rearview mirror. But, as my cousin, a therapist, wisely reminds us, our lives don’t change automatically by turning the page on a calendar.

So, New Years Resolutions aside, while actions cement change, the process begins with perspective, I think.

One of the most interesting changes I’ve witnessed over the past two years is my dog, Hope. Yes, my dog. (Frankly, dogs are some of the best “people” I know.) Hope entered our family more than 11 years ago as dog #4. Hope is a submissive dog by nature. She didn’t engage a whole lot with Britt and me. After all, there were three other dogs to compete with… or, in her case, acquiesce to. If I began to pet her, her tail would thump and dog #3, Naomi, would hear it and come running and Hope would promptly leave my presence. All dogs live in the moment, but Naomi made a science out of it. We called her Little Miss Stop and Fast; the most impulsive dog I’ve ever met. Over the years, one by one, the dogs passed. A year and a half ago, we lost our dear Naomi. For the first time in 22 years, Britt and I were down to just one dog. But, we reasoned that, if any dog could handle it, it was Hope since she didn’t seem to require much attention or engagement. I would miss it, though. After 22 years of dog cuddles and being shadowed all over the house (especially by the Dober dogs), I would have to adjust.

But I didn’t.

Hope did.

Hope has more than exceeded my hopes and expectations. She is now an awesome cuddler. She is my #1 workout buddy. She is my constant companion. This once incredibly timid dog has become calm, but confident. Earlier this week, hiking at Cincinnati Nature Center, she had her first chance at age 11 to cross a running stream on a trail. She boldly crossed without apprehension and I told her how proud I was.

I’m proud of her… and a little ashamed of myself. Why did I expect so little of her after Naomi died? Clearly, she had been patiently biding her time and all she needed was opportunity and encouragement to blossom into a true “velcro dog.”

I wonder if my way of seeing Hope may have limited her. And I have to wonder how often I do that with people. Right now, we are such a divided nation. My denomination is divided. Many families are divided. But, what might change if we began to see one another differently, adjusted our perspective? What if we began to assume (rightly) that we all have the capacity to evolve? Will everyone react like Hope and rise to meet the challenge? Of course not. But even if just a few of us can grow along the way, it’ll be a better 2021.

Happy New Year.

The Tender Mercy of Our God

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(This week marks the fourth and final week of Advent. The word Advent means “coming.” As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming as a baby in a manger so long ago and anticipate his coming again at the end of time, may we become more aware of the many ways Christ comes to us each day…)

Throughout this Advent season, we have been guided by two verses from Zechariah’s Benedictus in Luke: NRS Luke 1:78 “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Our focus this week is on mercy. Do you know the first adjective God uses to describe God’s self? Merciful. Above all else, our God is merciful. The Greek word for mercy appears five times in just the first chapter of Luke’s gospel! In this week’s sermon, I focus on how we open ourselves more deeply to the mercy of God: https://youtu.be/PkyGCvb10tk Hint: Mercy requires generosity on the part of the one granting it; but also requires a certain vulnerability on the part of the recipient. Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) makes clear that mercy is a gift forfeited by those who are proud and committed to independence and self-sufficiency. That message is a tough sell in America where we are taught from the cradle that we should “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.”

Throughout this season of Advent, I invite you to immerse yourself in God’s Word and God’s presence through scripture and prayerful meditation, perhaps using the process below. A free app to assist you with this way of practicing attentiveness to God’s presence can be found at https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/centering-prayer-mobile-app/

  • Read a passage of scripture
  • After reading, say this simple prayer of the early Church, “Come, Lord Jesus” or the prayer of the boy Samuel from 1 Samuel 3:9-10, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”
  • Sit quietly for ten minutes or more, listening for God’s voice
  • If your mind begins to wander, refocus yourself by using a mantra, perhaps: “God, guide my feet into the way of peace”

You might use the following resources to select a scripture – a different one for each day or one for the full week:

  • Trinity’s weekly online devotional. This week’s devotion was written by Rev. Britt Leslie, Ph.D. (New Testament) and can be found at: http://www.trinitylafayette.org/advent/fourth-sunday-of-advent-our-savior-comes and focuses on the following scripture passages: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:47-55; Rom 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
  • Trinity’s weekly Advent group will focus on additional scriptures, including Exodus 34:1-6; Luke 10:25-37; Joel 2:12-14; and the 4th chapter of Jonah.
  • Twenty at Twilight is a weekly video post that provides a 20 minute guided meditation, a way of praying with scripture, to conclude the day focusing on and resting in the presence of God.  Each Wednesday evening, 20 at Twilight is posted to Trinity’s webpage (www.trinitylafayette.org) and FaceBook page https://www.facebook.com/TrinityUMC509 and will also be updated on this blogpost.

Join us for worship on Christmas Eve live, via Zoom, on Dec. 24 at 6pm at:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83072737662?pwd=cjNHU3liSkZENXlESUZBdVYvQTVPZz09

Walk in the Light

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This week marks the third week of Advent. The word Advent means “coming,” as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming as a baby in a manger so long ago, anticipate his coming again at the end of time, and – hopefully – become more aware of the many ways Christ comes to us each day…)

On the third Sunday of Advent, my morning message, Walk in the Light (https://youtu.be/q542XpTMVIw) looked at the beginning of the gospel of John (John 1:1-9). As human creatures, we need light for life. In reality, we don’t know the time of year Jesus was born. They didn’t issue birth certificates to first-century Galilean peasants! But it is fitting that we celebrate the birth of Jesus so close to the time of the winter solstice since, at Christmas (according to John), “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9)

But light is more than a physical phenomenon. Light signifies insight, vision, discernment and understanding. We can gain insight and understanding, we can discern more clearly, when we bask in the presence of the Light of the World, Jesus. Jesus is, according to John’s gospel, the incarnation of true Light and of God’s Word. He is the source of Life.

Throughout this season of Advent, I invite you to bathe in the light of God’s Word and God’s presence through scripture and prayerful meditation, perhaps using the process below. A free app to assist you with this way of practicing attentiveness to God’s presence can be found at https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/centering-prayer-mobile-app/

  • Read a passage of scripture
  • After reading, say this simple prayer of the early Church, “Come, Lord Jesus” or the prayer of the boy Samuel from 1 Samuel 3:9-10, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”
  • Sit quietly for ten minutes or more, listening for God’s voice
  • If your mind begins to wander, refocus yourself by using a mantra, perhaps: “God, guide my feet into the way of peace”

You might use the following resources to select a scripture – a different one for each day or one for the full week:

  • Trinity’s weekly online devotional. The Dec. 13 devo is written by Suzanne Clemenz, Trinity’s Associate Pastor for Caring Ministries and and incorporates scriptures from Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; and John 1: 6-8, 19-28. View it at http://www.trinitylafayette.org/advent/third-sunday-of-advent-the-light-of-the-world
  • Trinity’s weekly Advent group will focus on additional scriptures around this theme of light, including: Genesis 1:1-5 and Revelation 21:1-4, 22-25 and, of course, our biblical theme guiding us through this season, Luke 1:78-79.
  • Twenty at Twilight is a weekly video post that provides a 20 minute guided meditation, a way of praying with scripture, to conclude the day focusing on and resting in the presence of God. This week’s 20 at Twilight reflects on Mary’s Magnificat in Luke, chapter 1. https://youtu.be/RlgiTPa94AM

No Peace Without Justice

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(This week marks the second week of Advent. The word Advent means “coming,” as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming as a baby in a manger so long ago, anticipate his coming again at the end of time, and – hopefully – become more aware of the many ways Christ comes to us each day…)

On the second Sunday of Advent, Pastor Suzanne’s morning message (https://youtu.be/qU2cJE75IWk) looks at the message of John the Baptist according to the gospel of Luke. In Luke’s presentation of the Baptizer’s message (found in Luke 3:1-17), we see that justice or righteousness (they are, by the way, the same word in Greek) are more than churchy words or concepts. They are about the way that we live. They are about sharing with those in need and not living from a place of fearful hoarding or self-preservation. They are about being in a right relationship with God, other people, and all of creation.

This Advent season, Trinity is focusing on the message of the angels to the shepherds on that night of Jesus’ birth: “Peace on earth, good will toward all.” Right now, we are all so desperate for more peace in our lives and our world. But we must remember that there can never be peace without justice.

Throughout this season of Advent, I invite you to engage in a process of being attentive to God’s Word and God’s presence through scripture and prayerful meditation, perhaps using the process below. A free app to assist you with this way of practicing attentiveness to God’s presence can be found at https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/centering-prayer-mobile-app/

  • Read a passage of scripture
  • After reading, say this simple prayer of the early Church, “Come, Lord Jesus” or the prayer of the boy Samuel from 1 Samuel 3:9-10, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”
  • Sit quietly for ten minutes or more, listening for God’s voice
  • If your mind begins to wander, refocus yourself by using a mantra, perhaps: “God, guide my feet into the way of peace”

You might use the following resources to select a scripture – a different one for each day or one for the full week:

  • Trinity’s weekly online devotional. The Dec. 6 devo is written by Melissa Kramer, Trinity’s Director of Congregational Ministries and focuses on Mark 1:1-8. View it at http://www.trinitylafayette.org/advent/second-sunday-of-advent-prepare
  • Trinity’s weekly Advent group will focus on additional scriptures around this theme of righteousness: Matthew 1:18-25 (Joseph is the first righteous character presented in Matthew’s gospel); Matthew 5:17-20; and, of course, our biblical theme guiding us through this season, Luke 1:78-79.
  • Twenty at Twilight is a weekly video post that provides a 20 minute guided meditation, a way of praying with scripture, to conclude the day focusing on and resting in the presence of God. This week’s 20 at Twilight guides us through a prayerful process to consider how to bring more “rightness” into our relationships. View it at https://youtu.be/k5IYcVNemWU

Coming

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(Advent begins on Sunday, November 29. The word Advent means “coming,” as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming as a baby in a manger so long ago, anticipate his coming again at the end of time, and – hopefully – become more aware of the many ways Christ comes to us each day…)

On the first Sunday of Advent, as my morning message (https://youtu.be/qU2cJE75IWk) looks at scripture from the prophet Isaiah, we discover that God’s Word and God’s presence go hand in hand. Jesus is God’s Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14). In Hebrew scripture The Ark of the Covenant in the Temple contained the Word of God (the two tablets of the covenant given to Moses on Mt. Sinai) and the presence of God (on the Mercy Seat atop the Ark).

This Advent season, I invite you to engage in a process of being attentive to God’s Word and God’s presence through scripture and meditation, perhaps using the process below. A free app to assist you with this way of practicing attentiveness to God’s presence can be found at https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/centering-prayer-mobile-app/

  • Read a passage of scripture
  • After reading, say this simple prayer of the early Church, “Come, Lord Jesus” or the prayer of the boy Samuel from 1 Samuel 3:9-10, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”
  • Sit quietly for ten minutes or more, listening for God’s voice
  • If your mind begins to wander, refocus yourself by using a mantra, perhaps: “God, guide my feet into the way of peace”

You might use the following resources to select a scripture – a different one for each day or one for the full week:

  • Trinity’s weekly online devotional. The Nov. 29 devo is written by Jeremy Grossman and focuses on Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19. View it at http://www.trinitylafayette.org/advent
  • Scriptures from the sermon. The Nov. 29 sermon uses and references: Isaiah 2:1-5; Luke 1:78-79; Luke 2:14; John 14:25-27; John 2:13-22
  • Twenty at Twilight is a weekly video post that provides a 20 minute guided meditation, a way of praying with scripture, to conclude the day focusing on and resting in the presence of God. The Scripture accompanying this week’s 20 at Twilight is a passage from Revelation, chapter 21. View it at https://youtu.be/I7UaCUBv1nc

20 at Twilight

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Check out a couple of my recent Twenty at Twilight video posts:

A 20 minute contemplative time of praying the scriptures. This reflection is based on Exodus, 34:6 and God’s character of mercy.
A reflective, quiet way to end the day praying with scripture; this week’s scripture from chapter 4 of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
A video meditation using Psalm 139; a way to rest in God’s presence as we reflect at day’s end.

The Heart of the Matter

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During this COVID outbreak, I frequently call to check in with Trinity’s older members who are quarantining.  This week, I spoke with a retired pastor who attends Trinity.  I always enjoy talking with Dale.  Perhaps he’d told me before, but I’d forgotten, that his older sister is also a retired pastor.  In her mid-90’s, I remarked to him that she must have been quite the trend-setter.  Indeed, he confirmed that she faced much opposition and an uphill battle from the moment she verbalized her ministry call… which would have been in the 1950’s!  Women weren’t supposed to be ministers in the 1950’s.  It was a man’s job.  God called men, right?  After all, the New Testament tells women to be silent in church.

Fortunately, today, women are welcomed as pastoral leaders in many Christian denominations and churches.  Welcomed because people understand that 21st century American culture is very different from the ancient Mediterranean world.  We recognize that women are not property, nor are they inferior to men.

To truly live according to scripture, we need to understand scripture.  To understand scripture, we need to understand the differences between our cultures.  A great deal of our New Testament epistles or letters contain contextual theology, an early evangelist’s instruction/responses to people asking questions or facing challenges specific to their lived experiences and context.  If we do not understand the intersection of culture and theology, we’ll make inappropriate applications that don’t fit our cultural experiences and context.  Worse yet, they may cause spiritual pain and harm to those whom God loves.

This Monday, July 20, is our monthly Fusion gathering at Trinity.  The speaker will be Jason Conner.  Jason arrived at Trinity two weeks before COVID shut-down.  I’d say I’m amazed he didn’t give up on us (because he’s never seen our sanctuary with more than 45 people in it!), but it’s become pretty clear to me that Jason doesn’t give up easily.  A gay man, he’s faced a lot of rejection and judgment from churches over the years.  Yet, he has such a deep love for Christ and the Church that he has endured, wisely recognizing that God is more welcoming than many who claim to represent God.

I invite you to come and hear Jason’s inspiring story this Monday, July 20, at 6 p.m. on Trinity’s south lawn.

Fusion is a once-monthly gathering offering an alternative experience in Christian community.  It’s designed for individuals who might describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” and as seeking a sense of community, but may not be attracted to traditional, or even contemporary, church worship services. 

Fusion features a speaker sharing a personal story based upon a specific topic and a bible (sacred) story connected to their own experiences.  At the conclusion of the speaker’s narrative, participants are invited to join in “table talk” to share their personal stories and perspective in a facilitated, small group setting.  Fusion concludes with a free meal.  You are invited to connect, discover and grow within this community. 

Can’t physically make it to Fusion?  It’s live streamed on our Fusion Facebook page.

http://www.trinitylafayette.org/fusion https://www.facebook.com/TrinityFusion/

[Check out my new Twenty at Twilight weekly video post.  Twenty at Twilight airs each Wednesday from 8:40 to 9:00 p.m.  It is a quiet, reflective way to end the day praying the scripture.  View on Trinity’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TrinityUMC509  This week’s post:  https://www.facebook.com/TrinityUMC509/videos/3109484055805564
Also, check out my new book Companions on the Journey: Foundational Spiritual Practices available through Wipf and Stock (https://wipfandstock.com/companions-on-the-journey.html) or contact me directly for a signed, discounted copy.
Contact me regarding spiritual direction at tracey@trinitylafayette.org] 20200324_200934