Easter Sunday: Go

This past Sunday, I was reminded of the beauty that comes with taking time to stop and breathe. I was asked to do two Vespers services at a retirement home, and preached a sermon on acknowledging the breath as an active sign of God working. 

In retrospect, I realized that I was surrounded by dozens of people who really didn’t need that message. By definition, retire means to retreat. They have to take things slower, and they have time to sit and breathe. I realized that God had given me that message to preach for myself, and that those congregation members were serving as testaments to my words.

The word “go” holds a tricky place in my heart. In late 2010, I was diagnosed  with Multiple Connective Tissue Disorder, an autoimmune disease which primarily affects my joint and muscle tissue. 

Before I was diagnosed, I was captain of my varsity volleyball team. I’d come home from practice at 5pm every day completely exhausted. I would go to sleep, then in the morning, wake up with a stiffness in my body that made it tough to get out of bed. I walked the halls of school sore and still tired, then would end up at volleyball practice again, where I would find something wrong with my body (wrist, ankle, knee, etc).

After my rheumatologist took four million gallons of blood for test, I learned what the cause of all that was, MCTD. In talking about the disease with him, I was informed that my body was attacking itself, and that it worked differently because of it, hence the tiredness and soreness. For this reason, I’d need to get it through my head that it was okay to stop. 

I’ve always been a pretty active person. Yeah, I enjoy working out and playing sports, but I also am a busybody, running around always having to do something to feel productive or important. Then, here I was at a time in my life when I couldn’t. “Go, go, go” anymore. I physically couldn’t. It was then, that I had to teach myself how not to go; how to stop. 

It’s tough, I think; to realize that you or your body or your situation can’t handle anymore. Your self, something which has gotten you so far, is now failing you, in your mind, telling you no, you can’t do this. 

I remember laying in bed on a rare Saturday where there was no volleyball or other engagements. I’d be wide awake, but not be able to lure myself up to go to the bathroom. Once, I remember standing up, then ending up sitting on the rug just next to my bed, feeling the exhaustion wash over me. Even when I ( or my bladder) wanted to go, my body said stop. 

Today, I’m working through this process still, finding my own personal balance and formula for this semi-new body that I’m working with. Now, I find no guilt in a day spent in bed, but I also know the value of a trip to the gym to loosen my joints. 

I’m still learning, but I feel a little better about predicting my own personal stoplight; when the light will turn green or yellow or red. And that’s important, because with this information, I find the strength and courage I need to go.

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Holy Saturday: Refuge

 

At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.-(‭John‬ ‭19‬:‭41-42‬)

This Maundy Thursday, I had the honor of participating in part of the service. Towards the end of our Maundy Thursday service, the pastors tell the betrayal and crucifixion story and then strip the altar while the congregation sings “Where You There When They Crucified My Lord”. This year, I was invited to join in the stripping of the altar.

Now, I am a loud, opinionated person who comes from a long and proud line of loud, opinionated people, but I have always struggled with stage fright. I still remember preaching my first sermon and hardly ever making eye contact, striving to let God speak through me while pretending I wasn’t in a worship service. I was motioned to join the pastors up on the chancel, but I remained glued to my seat, with a few more encouraging nods from my senior pastor, I finally made my way up the steps to stand before the altar. I was at a loss of what to do, so I mimicked the clergy and I took the communion elements off the altar. As I stood in the room where we were placing the items from the altar, I said to myself, “I hate this”. At first, I thought I had this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach because I was scared I was going to mess up, in front of the whole congregation, no less.  My senior pastor coaxed me back to the chancel with the promise that he wouldn’t let me mess up. And I am proud to say that I didn’t, but that’s terrible feeling never went away. The whole time I did it, I felt wrong, out of place, like I shouldn’t have been there.

I’ve thought a lot about what could have made me feel this way, from the fact that I’m not clergy to the fact that  it had been a while since I’d been in that church. Finally, after prayer and reflection, I’ve decided it’s because I hated recrucifying Christ.

The Church began the practice of stripping the altar during Mundy Thursday services to reenact the death of Christ. The candles are extinguished and removed, because Christ  is the light of the world and the world was plunged into darkness upon his death. The Elements are removed because they are a symbol of Christ’s Body and Blood. All adornment is removed, for there was no joy and beauty in the death of Christ.

The act of stripping the altar is the act of recrucifying Christ for all the congregation to see and that is something I couldn’t stomach. But, we do it all the time. Every time we raise our hand in anger, we speak malice towards one another, we allow oppression to exist unchecked, we recrucify Christ. I couldn’t accept that I was doing this act in the middle of a church service, but I am perfectly content to do this when the rest of the world does it too.

Today’s word is refuge. God is my refuge, God is my strength, and God is my help. When we are faced with the terrible acts of humanity, when we are faced with the terrible acts that we do ourselves, we can remember that Christ is our refuge. Christ was crucified by us, by humanity, but he came back. On this Holy Saturday, this day when Christ laid in the tomb and all seemed lost, we know what happens next. Christ died while we were yet sinners. And then he came back. Thanks be to God!

Day 42: Call

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Micah 6:8“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Luke 15:1-2“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'”

I have a confession: I suffer from what I call Chronic Cliché Eye-Roll. It’s a disease that, upon hearing a cliché, I can’t help but roll my eyes, no matter where I am or in what context the cliché is being said. It’s just going to happen. So, today’s word is call and I simply can’t let myself blog about how God is calling us. We all know that God is calling us, Jesus began his ministry by calling the first disciples, and he ended his ministry by promising an Advocate (the Holy Spirit) that would help and guide us to where God was calling us. Many churches begin their worship service with a Call to Worship and end them with the Sending Forth, which serve as a reminder that we are a called people. Jesus’ calling did not stop with ascending into Heaven and it won’t stop until he comes back again.

What I want to speak about isn’t so much the call, as it is what we hear. When you hear God calling you, when you commit your life to Christ, your life should fundamentally change. We are not a called people because God looked upon us and said, “Yeah, they are doing just fine,” we are called people because God looked upon us and said, “You just haven’t got it yet. Here, let me come down and show you.” Christ lead by example, and it is our call to live out a life according to how Christ wants us to live.

Too often it seems, Christians find themselves marrying their faith to institutions. We saw that this week in Indiana, and now in Arkansas: Christians seeking to protect their rights by legislating themselves the right to deny service to anyone they see as violating their religious beliefs. Without placing judgement and without calling names, I just can’t help but wonder if that was a call of Christ. I will freely admit that many times I have heard God’s call, only to see that it was me behind the curtain all along pulling the strings, trying my best to mimic the voice of God. I know, love, and respect people on both sides of this issue and I don’t wish for this article to be about what’s happening in Indiana, I only seek to use it as an example.

You see, the call of Christ is something that rocks your world. It causes you to see you for what you are: a sinner, but it also shows you what you are to God: deeply loved. If Christ can see the good in you, might not Christ see the good in others? Living the life Christ lived is hard, if not impossible, for we are all fully human and not fully divine. However, we must try. While we may be able to love one another to the moon and back, we must strive to love one another as God loves us: to the cross and back.

So as we enter in to the middle of Holy Week, let us strive to listen to the voice of God, we are all called, but that doesn’t always mean we listen.

God, make us more attentive to you and your Spirit, so that as we draw nearer to you this week, we might better hear your voice above all the noise of this world. Amen.

March 29th: Celebrate

By: Bailey Brawner

To start us off this morning, I want to ask you all to put yourself in Jerusalem on the day when Jesus came to town on that colt. I want you to imagine yourselves working or playing with your families or taking a nap, when suddenly, here comes Jesus, the Messiah. Would that work of God get your attention?

In my world, God often has to give me big hints like that in order for me to understand or follow what He wants for my life. A lucky guess tells me I’m not the only one.

As I look back on my life, I recognize some of the little hints God was throwing my way, ones I chose to stubbornly ignore or warp, or ones that I just didn’t recognize as a ‘big enough hint’. Hindsight really is 20/20 for me.

 After I fell in love with Jesus, I learned to develop a special relationship with Him, one which gave me an entirely new outlook on the way I wanted to live my life. 

One of the thoughts I remember having was a desire for having a job where I could talk about Jesus all the time! That would be awesome, I thought. 

So what did I do? Did I go to a religious school or change my major? Nope. I went to school to be a PUBLIC school teacher, just about the only job I can think of off hand in which you can’t talk about God. 

After I recognized that, I felt a true tug towards ministry, and I even knew it. The word ‘pastor’ made the way into my head, and it terrified me, so I tried to compromise. I had a conversation with God, in which my words were something like “ okay God, I’ll go into ministry, but I’m doing it my way.” For the record, that’s never a very sound argument when talking to God. But, my naïve 18 year old mind wasn’t getting away without trying, so I looked into children’s ministry, insisting that was the plan I was going with. 

That next summer, I interned at my home church in Anchorage. Mostly, I’d be doing youth and children’s ministry, according to my contract. Both were areas which excited and eased me, because I was good at them and they were in my comfort zone. So there I was, happy and un-challenged…just the way I liked it. 

Well, in early June of that summer, my pastor, Jenny approached me asking if I’d preach that following Sunday. My mind said absolutely not, but I’ve been to Sunday School before, so I knew to say yes to the pastor. After dreading it the whole rest of the week, it was finally time to preach. As if the pressure wasn’t already on, I was going at it in front of one of my current pastors as well as my former pastor and now church superintendent. So I stood up there, shaking, and started to speak. Ironically enough, the movie I was speaking on, “The King’s Speech” was all about finding a voice. That night, I didn’t have a choice but to find my voice.

From the point I started to speak, I fell in love with it. Though I‘m sure my voice was barely audible because of the shakiness, it was the best feeling in the world.

That was the night I realized I had been lost and then found at the same time, finding God’s work along the way. I was lost within my own comfort zone, doing things that were easy for me and that I was good at. That night at church, I recognized that I wasn’t especially excellent at preaching and it certainly didn’t come easy to me, yet God had still decided to lead me towards it, and to show up in the midst of that discomfort. That was the night when I got it finally. God showed up in a big way that night, and I needed it to listen.

God took my insecurities, my doubts, and even my stubbornness, and turned it into a calling. Even after I ignored Him again and again, God showed up, and I am confident that He will forever show up.

On Palm Sunday, we remember this story of Jesus riding in to a town one day. Jesus showed up, and he showed up in a big way. He literally showed up… that’s about as good as it gets. In the midst of imperfect people doing imperfect things, Jesus showed up. Sometimes it takes something as blatantly obvious as this for us to get the memo that there’s work being done in our lives and in the kingdom. 

Sometimes it takes us being nervous or in fear or uncomfortable for us to acknowledge Jesus. God will do this again and again. He loves us so much that He will move a mountain or perform miracles or make a rainbow just to get us to acknowledge His works.

At the same time, God works in small ways. God can speak to us through a butterfly, or through a yellow stop light or through a text message. The big ways are great, but I find myself most amazed in the little ways I see God working in my life. One of the smallest ways I can think of, an act that is plain and monotonous and an every-day kind of thing is our breathing. 

Take a moment to simply breathe. Feel your lungs filling up and releasing air as you inhale and as you exhale. Feel your breath getting slower and then faster as you interact with the world around you. Concentrate on your breath and only your breath. 

This breath that I feel, and this breath you feel; that’s God working in us.  You may say, umm that’s actually a scientific process, but just think about it. With every inhale, God reminds us that we have more to learn and more to take in. With every exhale, we hear God telling us that we are forgiven, that we can let go of all the anger and mistakes and sadness. God reminds us that things enter our life, and things exit our life; circumstances, thoughts, ideas, and even people. God reminds us that it’s okay, because with the things that leave, new things will appear soon, just as we refill our lungs with new oxygen. 

Something as simple as a breath is God communicating with us. We breathe all the time, but still fail to see His works in us. We find ourselves distracted or annoyed or too stubborn to acknowledge the breath, the personalized communication of life from our creator, who is the personalizer of all our hopes and dreams and desires.

Today and tomorrow, and for the rest of your life, I challenge you to simply breathe. Find a short time to sit or stand or lay down and breathe. Turn the world off, all the distractions and temptations, and listen. God has something new and good to show you. It doesn’t always take Jesus riding into town on a donkey. Sometimes it’s as simple as feeling yourself breathe.

Will you pray with me.

Loving and Holy God,

We are amazed by you and by the ways you show up.

In the big ways and especially the small, you are there. 

Even when we miss your cue, you are there.

As we enter Holy Week, we ask that we become more aware of you.

We want to know you more deeply and more completely.

God, show us new and unimaginable things in the name of Jesus.

Show us our Hosanna today; the thing that makes us excited  and full of your spirit and ready to parade around waving palm branches.

Thank you for loving and teaching and pushing us to live a life full of your grace.

In your name we pray,

Amen

Day 36: Meditate

My first experience with meditation was a DBT based mindfulness. I remember laying on the floor of the English room and thinking what the heck are these weirdos doing? How was I supposed to not think about anything for 5 whole minutes. 

Over time I got better at mindfulness and just being in my body. And gradually those five minutes became the best 5 (and if we were really lucky 10) minutes of my whole week. 

One thing that Bobbi made sure we knew was you can be mindful doing anything. So for today’s meditation picture on my Instagram I posted a picture of something I baked this morning because I took the time to be mindful while I was making it and I consider mindfulness a form of meditation. 

But after a workshop at church tonight I figured I’d end my night with some prayerful mediations. 

  

Day 35: Truth – At the table or on the menu

 

 By Aaron Pazan

I look back at the past four years and so much has changed since the last time I was here at Glide UMC. I can picture freshmen me who just the previous summer spent a week and a half in foreign country without any family members. At the time I was starting to really allow myself to acknowledge the fact that I thought I was queer. I was always a person who wanted equality for everyone in the church.

But, at the time I wasn’t sure about myself being queer.

Now I’m here at Glide, in my senior year of college where just this past summer I visited a third world country and survived a category 4 typhoon. I’m now out as a genderqueer person to the majority of my Episcopal Area (Greater-Northwest).  I have become a spokesperson of some sort for my Episcopal Area, if people have questions on ways to make their camp and retreat centers more genderqueer, non-binary, and trans friendly they ask me, the genderqueer college kid.

The sermon from Sunday Morning at Glide hit it home with me and my love hate relationship with The UMC.

Rev. Angela Brown said “If you’re not at the table, your probably on the menu.” Every time I partake of communion at a UMC church I feel like the queer part of me isn’t accepted. I feel as if I have to go back in the closet when I step inside churches that aren’t part of Reconciling MinistriesNetwork. I feel as if I have to become this fake pseudo person in order to save my sanity and my mental health.

I believe because The Book of Discipline says that the practice homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching that I am on the menu because my full authentic self isn’t welcome at the table.

I pray and work for the day that my full authentic genderqueer self can be completely at the table.  Where I can be truly present without hiding any of myself in fear that a pastor or lay member may make unnecessary or rude remark about me being genderqueer. Where I won’t have to make that hard decision to be closeted in the ordination process even though I am outrageously queer.

I am now refilled with hope and my decision to stay within The United Methodist Church makes all the more sense at this current time period. I have come to realize that I must stay because my story of reconciling my faith and sexuality is something that needs to be told.

I pray that one-day the table will be open for ALL; the genderqueer person, the non-binary person, the abused, the disenfranchised. All really means ALL, period.

Day 34: Mercy

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While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mercy and I have always have always had an interesting relationship. I can get behind the idea of grace; I am proud to be a United Methodist, one of the “grace people”. The idea of God raining down His grace upon creation in an endless shower of love is a cornerstone of my belief system.

However, mercy, for the longest time, came to be an example of The Fall. Grace showcases the radical love of God, but for me, mercy showcased the radical failures of man. It wasn’t until later that I came to see mercy for what it is: a continuation of the amazing love of God.

During the Baptismal Covenant, the pastor recites the Thanksgiving Over The Water, which is their act of blessing the water. During this liturgy, we recount the examples of God leading the Chosen People across Egypt and into the Promised Land. It is at that point that the congregation responds in unison with:

Sing to the Lord, all the earth

Tell of God’s mercy each day.

We receive God’s mercy in the form of forgiveness of our sins; it is that act of mercy that brings us into a right relationship with God, but God is greater than just forgiveness. God’s mercy exists beyond the walls of the church and beyond the confines of the soul and can be found out in the world. The call of a Christian is to be an extension of that mercy, to be a conduit that connects people to one another and God.

Today is the Feast Day of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a clergy person who was called to preach against the violence and radical inequality that had a grip on his homeland of El Salvador. Romero preached the Gospel and he ignited the hearts of the Salvadorian people: not to violence, but to radical love. Romero strove to tell everyone of God’s mercy each day.

It was during the act of communion, that Great Retelling of God’s Mercy, the point in a worship service where we, as a community of worshipers, remember God’s ultimate act of mercy by thinning the veil of this world and the Heavenly world, that hatred burst in and Archbishop Romero was assassinated. The man who was murdered for preaching mercy died while remembering the ultimate murder committed in response to preaching mercy.

Although the world may not like it, although the powers of the world quake in fear and turn violent at its mentioning, let us boldly and always sing to the Lord and tell of God’s mercy each day.

Day 33: Forgive

I should’ve signed up for the blogging schedule earlier. I could’ve picked some buzz word I liked and crapped out something really quickly.

Instead, the word has been tugging at my mind and my heart; when I noticed the harsh thoughts I had about a peer, when buried anger appeared for a split second, or when I for whatever reason felt cheated. Most of the time it’s never anything big enough to evoke a physical or verbal response. More often, my anger is something that I deal with internally, letting in stew, adding ingredients each day.

Brene Brown says “In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die.” Part of it’s my pride (actually, a lot of it,) part of it is my “need” to be independent, and some of it is that I’m hindering relationships with others and myself from growing.

I think about the parable of the prodigal son. Forgiveness isn’t something that happens instantaneously. The son had to spend all his money and eat pig slop before he came home. Forgiveness is hard. The dark feelings in the deepest part of my soul have to do with forgiving those who have hurt me. But when I’ve been brave enough to take that leap, forgiveness was freeing. Forgiveness welcomes us home to the place where our debts are forgiven.

Forgiveness is inviting new life to spring forth from what was dead in the ground. As we make way for the Resurrection, I invite you to cultivate new life within you.

-Carly

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Day 32: Celebrate

By: Bailey Brawner

As Christians, we have much to celebrate. Often times, I forget about all these, and I need to remind myself of all the good that is around me, and of all the celebrations among us.

We get to celebrate a perfect God, and the path that God has for our lives.

We celebrate the choices we get to make.

We celebrate the chances for change that occur each and every day.

We celebrate the growth we see in ourselves and those close to us when we look back in time.

We celebrate our friends and family, people who love us unconditionally.

We celebrate Jesus, the best friend one could ever have.

We celebrate this season of Lent, a time for new beginnings and hope.

God, help us to remember and appreciate the trueness of you. In the good times and bad, help us see your work in new ways. 

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