Thursday, March 23, 2017

Chaos has Descended.

Today was a rough day. It was the one year anniversary of the suicide of a resident in my CCRC. One of my flock. I spent a good chunk of the day with this persons widow, as well as the couple that witnessed the events unfold. 
In light of Lent, My heart yearns for the resurrection, and my heart is continually broken for God's people. But we are Easter people; and Easter is coming! 

Below is what I shared with my team that week last year:

I walked my people through a trauma this week. And they walked me through it. So in light of Good Friday, this is what I shared with them:
"It has been a rough week. Chaos has descended.(Oh, yeah, yeah it’s Holy Week.) Death’s sting has stung. Death is a Liar. It’s Friday! BUT that IS the good news; cause Sunday is coming!
Nothing, NOTHING is outside the redemptive reach of God. We ARE Easter people.
See you at the empty tomb!
Rev. Sal"

Monday, March 20, 2017

Come to the Well

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”“I have no husband,” she replied.Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”-John 4:15-18 NIV

             How many of us have every done a Google search on our computers or smart phones? If you have, you may know that each time you open your browser, that browser keeps a record of you searches and the websites you may have looked at. In tech talk this is your browser history, or just your history.  And security experts say you should routinely erase or clean out your “history.” But, guess what, we all have a history. And not just a google history. And every now and then we are reminded of or look at that history. And sometimes, like if our computers get hacked, people find out our histories. 
             To be found out or discovered without being known can leave us dry and desolate. It leaves us thirsty and dehydrated, thirsty and longing for something different, something more, but always returning to the same well hoping be quenched. We all have a well in our life that we keep returning to. For some of us, like the Samaritan woman who mets Jesus at the well, it is the well of marriage. Guilty. For some people, it is the well of perfectionism. Some go to the well of hiding and isolation. Others drink for the well of control or power. For many, there is the well of addiction. Or the well of busyness, denial and anxiety. 
            Jesus invites us to be "found out." He invites the Samaritan woman drink from the well that is eternal, life giving recognition. He knows us, he knows our past and he yet accepts us, internet histories and all. He doesn't care about your past, only your future, a future that involves being filled with the living water that is the presence of Christ. And we should want to offer that well to others. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Get lost! With Jesus.

So we are in Lent. Where has this year gone? I feel like I just finished digesting Thanksgiving dinner. But we are in Lent. We are journeying together to Easter. The joy and celebration of Easter.  But first we have to go through Lent. A season for Christians, whether it is a new found practice or one of liturgical tradition, it is the most beautiful season of the Christian year.
Our reading for today I think is a great for the beginning of lent. I, like countless preachers around the country, even the world, are preaching on it if they follow the Lectionary. Which is a cycle of Scripture that allows us to preach and listen through the bible for the year. (If you follow it through the 3 year cycle you will have read 80% of the bible.) The past few weeks or months the lectionary has been leading us through Matthew but will switch to John for the remainder of Lent. I think the choice to use Matthew 4 for the beginning of lent is  a wise and beautiful one. 
What does the 40 days wandering imagery bring to mind? What does it invoke in you? Typically scholars speak of how Jesus’ temptation in the desert connects him to the Old testament. The Israelites too, where led into the wilderness. Through out scripture it acted as place for people to be tested and God to be found and encountered. And Matthew emphasizes that Jesus like the Israelites, was called out to the wilderness to be tested and he passed that test. 
In Matthew, Jesus had to exit society, to leave people and go to dessert to experience the divine. He often does that if you know the gospel story. The desert, as you might know, is not a pleasant place, and might be a place where one might face their demons. And literally, it is an unforgiving, dangerous and inhospitable place. Think scorpions, snakes, etc. 
The important lesson that I glean from Jesus’ wilderness experience, that I think is important for the next few weeks of Lent is this. That like Jesus, God is calling us into the wilderness. Into those inhospitable places in our lives and inner being to be tested. IF God is calling you to something, you will be tested. It may be as Martin Luther said, I’m paraphrasing, that the devil will show up and “throw you sins in your face and tell you that you deserve hell and death. And you can respond: what of it, I have Jesus Christ on my side, who won my satisfaction.” 

Jesus has already been to the wilderness, he’s already faced death and hell for our sakes. When he calls us do the same, his spirit empowers us. We just have to face some scary stuff. Cause really, self reflection is scary. But we are being called to be better, more empathetic Christ followers. So will you join me in the wilderness? 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Love is as deep as the tears in our hearts that no one sees

Joel 2:13
Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Rend your hearts and not your garments. Well what the heck does that even mean!? Well good thing I went to seminary and barely survived, I mean studied Hebrew! Well the Hebrew word qara (kaw-rah) actually means to  tear, so Joel here is telling us to tear our hearts, and not clothes. Um, no, that would hurt! 
        But the prophet Joel is talking here in the 2nd chapter about coming to the Lord with fasting, mourning and weeping and to tear your heart and not your clothing. In ancient Israel, tearing your clothing was an act of symbolism, it expressed grief and morning. So Joel is telling the people to come to God when in grief not ripping your clothes in an outward expression of sorrow, but in a inward looking, self reflective, self aware act of submission and mourning. 
         So we are entering the Lenten season. Christian’s worldwide mark the beginning of this season with Ash Wednesday. A day we make a visible mark on our foreheads with ashes, to remind ourselves of our mortality and need for repentance and look forward to the redemptive work of the cross. It is a beautiful and meaningful day.
I have had the privileged to spend Ash Wednesday the last few years in the health care centers dispensing ashes as part of my work as a health care chaplain.I always feel the Holy Spirit moving on Ash Wednesday. I always find by the end of the day that God is still moving, still speaking to me. I have had some amazingly intimate and divine moments on the past few Ash Wednesdays.      
Today was no different. In between the rounding and walking areas of the building with ashes and worship services, I made a visit to a certain resident of my community. This person lost their husband last year during Holy Week to a suicide. Needless to say we have had some deep grief and pain filled pastoral counseling sessions in the months since, and will again as the anniversary comes closer. Today was no different. I impose ashes, and as we hold hands to pray, both with tears in our eyes, she whispered "you are so good at what you do." I was blessed to enter into this woman's grief with her, and together we rended, we tore open our hearts to God. This is the deeply profound and deeply exhausting work of a chaplain.       
I was then called, after coming home to debrief and eat dinner, called back to the community to be at the bedside with a family as their father passes. In laying of hands and praying over him, I was able to bless him with Ashes. The meaning of the day came full circle.I rest in and was reminded of the power of Paul's letter to the Romans; where sin increased, Grace abounded more; and nothing in life; NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
      What I appreciate the most about Ash Wednesday is it calls us to reflect on our shared frailty and brokenness. We come together and confess our sins, as a community, and visibly display our recognition that we are mere carbon based beings that return to that dirty red clay. (That's a Genesis reference) 
        Jesus tells us that when we pray or fast, to do it in private, unlike the hypocrites who put their piety on display. It is true, we are making a public, visible mark that we are beginning a time of penitence. Aren’t we kind of like, well the hypocrites? I hope not. But that is a question you must ask yourself as we begin this Lenten journey. Am I personally, in my heart seeking truly to turn to God in prayer and repentance, tearing open my heart to Jesus? Am I looking to the road to the cross and living to be a better person? Are we trying to be a better follower of Jesus? Because if we are to follow Jesus; we must follow the road to the Cross. And that takes a deep, inward reflection on ourselves. And it takes deep inward commitment to others.  And we mark ourselves, collectively as individuals, together yet separately, journeying towards Christ knowing full well that we return to the very dust that God breathed life into. 
But that is the great thing. We follow a gracious God. A God that took on our brokenness on the Cross of Jesus. And it's the road to that cross, and the resurrection story that we begin to reflect and pray about on Ash Wednesday.  We take the time to reflect on the sacrifice and the service of our savior Jesus Christ and to attempt, however much we fail, to live a life that models his grace and love.

Romans 5:20

But where sin increased, Grace abounded all the more.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Salt and Light

            I based this post on a familiar scripture from Mathew.(5:13-20) Familiar even if you haven’t read it because of the song based on it, “This little light of mine.” This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine. We have all sung the lyrics to the familiar hymn. How many of us have relegated this to the children's sermon. Along with Jesus loves me. It’s ok, you can raise your hand. It falls in the larger section that is the Sermon on the Mount. There, Christ speaks of those who are blessed, but in our passage today he continues on what the responsibilities of those who are blessed is.
            Our passage falls after the well-known beatitudes, where Jesus expounds on who is blessed. It is Christ’s rule for how those who are blessed should live. Their lives are meant to be transformed but this is not a simple list of rules. He calls the disciples to be Salt and light. Today’s passage comes in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. A sermon that was most likely preached to his disciples, but heard by the larger crowd on that hill. Jesus begins by saying that his disciples were to be like the salt of the earth. Think about it. Salt, for much of human history, and Jesus time is no exemption, was used to preserve food just as much to flavor it. Granted salt in Jesus time was not always pure, and could lose its taste and effectiveness. Salt, in of itself is not a really effective substance, unless it is applied to something. Jesus is telling his disciple that they are no good unless they are applied to each other, unless they are added to those around them to preserve and enhance each other.
            Jesus goes on to encourage his disciples to be a light unto the world. Just as you wouldn't hide your lamp under a bushel or bush, why would you not let your light, the light of Christ shine? Oil lamps in the ancient world were the only source of light after dark, and had to be maintained overnight. It would be foolish to light one and then hide it. It literally was the only brightness shining in the darkness.
                        So what do Salt and Light have to do with each other, and why is Jesus talking about them to his disciples.  Salt purifies, it preserves and it flavors. Light is meant to be seen, it guides us, and it can warn us. If we are to be people of integrity and shine forth the light of Christ, we must be people who live by God’s commandments, not allowing for those around us to see us without integrity. Too often I heard in my work as a college chaplain in Iowa that people chose to not gather for worship with us because of the hypocrisy and lack of integrity they saw from the church as a whole.  Jesus warns us of this in our passage today, that even in breaking of the least of his commandments, we teach others to do likewise. We must stand firm in our faith in the commandments and the integrity of the cross so that those looking in from outside the church can learn that we are living, striving for the promise and hope that is in Christ. Our lives shine for the world, good or bad. We are to stand firm in Christ and let our lives reflect that. Love and not law is the rule of the kingdom of God. Christ calls us to live and act in love.  When we read the Gospel of John, we are assured of the True light that came to enlighten the world. Just as John the Baptist did, we are called to testify to that True light, the Light of Jesus.
            Our lives shine for the world, good or bad. We are to stand firm in Christ and let our lives reflect that. Out of Darkness came the Light of Christ on the cross. When we walk and talk in the integrity of the Cross, we allow the light of Christ to shine through all of us and be an influence to all around us. If we can lead on person out of the darkness into the warmth of the Grace of Christ we can influence them for a lifetime.

I encourage all of you, let your light shine. BE that City on the hill, be a guiding light to anyone you meet, letting your light strengthen and purify you and the world. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

        What Are we afraid of? What are you afraid of? I am afraid of heights, and growing up, I was always afraid of fireworks. Until I was about 8, I couldn't enjoy 4th of July festivities. Silly I know, but loud noises scared me. They still do, if I am not expecting them. That’s part of why I don’t like horror movies, not so much the blood or gore, but the unexpected noises and surprises.  But we are all afraid of something. 
We read psalm 46. A psalm I have prayed at countless bedsides before surgery, at the time of death and times of grief. A simple passage that directs to not fear, to trust and hope in God; to trust in his providence, his power and his grace in even the worst of times. This psalm imperils us to trust, to trust with confidence who God is. HE is our source of refuge, our strength and very present help in times of need. 
I have sat at the bedsides of so many people in the times of need, at times when they have joined the cloud of witnesses. And it is at these times that God has spoken the words written here in Psalm 46. Be still and know that I AM GOD. I believe he says that when I sit with people at the hospital and on our healthcare unit. And I know folks hear it too at the end of their lives. If you do a quick survey of scripture, ok maybe not so quick,  and you will find that: “do not fear” is found 57 times. The phrase “do not be afraid” 46 times. Fear not in one phrase or another is in scripture 365 times. That works out to one reference for every day in the year. FEAR, will always be present. But the kicker is this. God always responds, fear not for I am WITH YOU. Scripture assures us that our days are filled with the love and the hope that we have in Christ. A love and hope that has embraced all of us, and a love that will sustain us and carry us as we continue until we meet him again. God is Love. And love is as BIG as heaven. Love is as small as the crack in our hearts that no one else sees. But Love always wins. 

          I feel like we are forgetting God's imperative to not fear, and in doing so we are forgetting the very core of what Jesus taught us. The Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us that the greatest rule that comes through the scriptures is to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as our self. (Mt 22:37-40, Mk 12:30-31, Luke 10:27) But Luke is the only one to tell us specifically who our neighbor is, ie the hurt, the stranger, and the outcast. And why do we forget to love our neighbor. Because of fear.
          I believe in a graceful God. Where my sin has abounded, God's love has abounded more. Even in my brokenness, God in Christ has accepted me for who I am. And it is in this grace that I have responded. God's grace is so powerful that I cannot help but to respond.
         And how should I respond? In gratitude, by Loving God. And we love God by loving and honoring our neighbors; the lost, the stranger, the outcast, those thirsty and seeking refuge.  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

I encouraged people I have visited as a chaplain  to remember that people are always nearby. I was reflecting on Mark 6 recently for a chapel service. The portion in the "in between," between the feeding of the 5 thousand and Jesus walking on water to meet the disciples. And the miracles were not so much that Jesus multiplied the food or walked on water, but that he took compassion and made the disciples the hands of that compassion. When was the last time you thought of yourself as that? 
But in Mark 6, we see that Jesus again wants to retreat to pray….He’s always doing that! In my chaplain positions, often after long visits with people, I find that I need to retreat. Retreat back into my office. This does a few things practically. It allows me to go make notes or chart what happened during the visit. But it also allows me to breath, process my feelings and the experiences I just shared and to recharge spiritually. This is common for people whose personalities are on the introverted side.
And in my reading of the Gospels I read that Jesus does this often too, he goes out to minister, and then comes in to recharge. Goes out, comes back in. He expends himself, then retreats and invites in God.   He’s an introvert, I’m telling you.
Often, in my work as a chaplain, i experience the rhythm of christian life and the struggle to come to Jesus genuinely. One of the hardest thing to learn in both seminary and chaplaincy training was learning to actively do rest. To do self care. For if we do not rest or take care of ourselves, we can’t earnestly approach Jesus with our whole selves. Which is the aim of the rhythm of the Christian life. And Jesus will meet us there, we just need to give it a rest.