I’ve had a hard time sitting down to write this week. I feel distracted, jittery, time-crunched and….sad. One friend said she knew it was bad when I texted her that I didn’t feel like talking but I was fine, just sad. Apparently I had never used the “s” word with her. Frankly, I knew it was bad when my husband showed up after work last week with flowers. Now, my husband is the BEST. He is my encourager, cheerleader and hands down the best hugger around. But the number of times he has brought me flowers? I could count them on one hand and still have some fingers leftover. It’s just not his jam. (For the record, Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs are his jam.)
I had some big losses last week — three in the span of seven days to be exact. Death is brutal, isn’t it? I know I am not alone in my grief, and I also know many of you have endured pain I can only imagine. My heart breaks for you.
But in the midst of it all this past week, I saw the most beautiful signs of God at work; what one seminary friend calls “God-sightings.” God-sightings are everywhere. Some of us see God in the spring green of the Aspen buds just beginning to poke out of their winter snooze. Some see God in the kindness of friends. Some in the way the dawn light dresses the very tips of the mountain peaks. Some in a baby who finally sleeps through the night (can I get an Amen?). For me, the God-sightings last week were specific and speedy answers to prayer.
If you’re anything like me (and I’m betting I’m not alone) you might find yourself saying to someone who is hurting, “I’ll pray for you.” I am always sincere in the moment and I would love to say I always remember but occasionally I find myself late into the night or the next day offering up an embarrassing, “God, you know there are people I’m supposed to be praying for. I’ve forgotten who but you never do. Please be with whoever it is that needs you.” I’m sure God has my back.
Last week I couldn’t afford to be so casual. So I found myself paying close attention to prayer because I was acutely aware of the pain in people’s lives. Three times I said, “I’ll pray for you,” but this time I dropped everything to do so. And every single time God proved to be right on the other side of the door. Each time I dropped everything to pray — and I mean fervent and specific prayer — the answer was so obvious, so glorious and so helpful to the people involved, I simply couldn’t pass it off as anything but God’s loving presence in our lives. My new mantra is “Stop, drop and pray.”
At some point this dark week someone told me they envied my faith. I remarked that it comes with practice. The more we seek, the more we see, the more our faith grows. God-sightings are there for us if only we acknowledge them as they gift they are. Not coincidence, not luck, not right-place-right-time. But the grace of God at work in our lives, walking alongside us, and dropping everything to hear our inmost pleas.
It was a difficult week, friends. But one thing I know for certain is that God was present and hard at work.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ if you look at it and live life through it, is a lens that changes the way we see everything. It changes not just how to view death, but how to view each and every day of life.
It is this story, this true story that tells us so much about God.
Jesus’ resurrection tells us that God is a Commitment Keeper.
Jesus, before He was crucified, said to the religious leaders, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Here He was not referring to a building, but to Himself. They did kill Him and He was raised in three days. God kept His word.
Jesus, before He was crucified, told His followers to go to Galilee, as He would meet them there after He had been killed. Jesus did exactly that despite the skeptics. God kept His word.
Jesus brought a dead girl back to life. Quieted a furious storm. Fed thousands with a small amount of food. Called people to follow Him not based on their resumes but their willingness. Jesus did such things and countless others, like dying on the cross, because He keeps his word, despite consequences, hatred, or even doubt.
Aside from being a Commitment Keeper, God is an Assumption Breaker.
Jesus sure looked dead on Friday. The assumption was that His death was a permanent done deal. Wrong assumption. His death was not the end of it all but a glorious truth-shattering new beginning. Yes, Jesus broke assumptions.
People assumed a woman whose life was broken was beyond starting over. Wrong. She met Jesus and her whole life changed. People assumed Mary Magdalene’s mental struggles were insurmountable. Wrong again.
Or that the child who was critically ill could not be healed. Or that a man who had made his living in a dishonest way could not change. Or that enemies should be hated. Or that bad people aren’t capable of profound transformations. Or that 12 people can’t change the world. Wrong, wrong, wrong again.
God is an Assumption Breaker. But God is also a Power Generator.
Listen to what Paul has to say about this in his letter to the people living in Ephesus. “How very great is God’s power at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength which God used when He raised Christ from death.”
Talk about power. The same power God used to raise Jesus from the dead is within us. God’s power is within us. We have God given power to overcome adversity. God-given strength to keep pushing on through. God given energy to go on when we want to give up.
This is not magical power. It is not power for self-serving purposes. It is the very presence of God given to us who believe as a gift from God for living right now. When the power of self-help runs out, God says turn to the unlimited well of His power.
God is a power generator, but God is also a Life Giving Healer.
If you look at the life of Jesus, one thing He did was heal people. Not only from physical diseases, but from the crippling effects of mistaken views and ways of looking at things. He healed people from attitudes that were life-diminishing, perspectives that were confining, and outlooks that were limiting.
He healed people in a vast array of ways, and I believe that the passionate healing nature of God continues, even though we sometimes can’t see it. And if God brought about new life for Jesus through his resurrection, God will certainly heal us from the consequences of death in the same way.
This is why Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” And why Paul wrote, “Nothing can keep us from the love of God. Death cannot.”
The bottom line. Death is not the end of existence, it is a doorway into a reality that already envelops and surrounds us right now. God is the ultimate life giver. Because of Christ’s death and bodily resurrection, our lives are eternal, even though they will morph and change in wondrous ways when we die.
God is an amazing, passionate healer. But God is also a Bottom Line Clarifier.
Over the last 20 years in ministry, I’ve learned some things that have not been easy to look at. I understand why so many who are not Christian have a problem with Christians. I get why religion is often a root problem in so many conflicts within families, friendships, communities and nations. I grasp why lots of people who go into ministry don’t last long in the vocation. Jesus understood all of this and in part He came among us to remind us of something.
Something not everyone likes to hear. That something. At its core, our walk with Jesus is not about learning to be a better person, or learning to do more things right, or gaining the ability to think properly. Christianity is not about learning to feel good enough, it is about learning to feel loved enough and to live life reciprocating God’s love.
Jesus said, all the scriptures, all the laws, everything every great prophet said, can be summed up with one word. Love. Loving God with all our hearts, minds, strength, and souls, and loving all other people through action.
Jesus rose from the grave not only to free us from the fear of death, but to free us to risk everything for love. And when we learn our walk with Jesus is about love far more than being right, then we are liberated not just from the grave, but from a world that pushes us into divisive self-serving corners of self-righteousness.
The Jesus movement, of which we are a part, is not a movement of right thinking, but of unbounded loving. And Jesus went to the cross and rose from the dead precisely to show us this truth.
This Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week with the celebration of Palm Sunday. There has never been a week like the days between when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a colt through Easter morning. I’ve often thought about what it must have been like to be one of Jesus’ closest followers during that time. I’m confident they experienced every human feeling imaginable.
Central to Jesus’ story is that those who were closest to him were often the most broken. And it was through the imperfection of His followers that the power of God was revealed, the strength of God demonstrated, and the healing and transformation that comes from a relationship with Jesus was shown.
Jesus used the brokenness of his followers to spread the Gospel message and start the church. And the good news for us is that our Lord will use our brokenness too, if we will follow and trust Him.
Being a Christian is not about perfection, it is about openness. It is not about being good enough, it is about letting go. It is not about what we do, but about what God does through us. It is not about how righteous we are, but about how forgiving God is. This is why I am mystified by those who believe our Christian walk is about behavior and rules ahead of the hard work of love.
The invitation of Holy Week is to allow God to take us, bless us, use our brokenness, and to allow Him to give us to the world to do His work.
And the work we are called to do was made clear that first Maundy Thursday during the first Holy Week. The word Maundy comes from the Latin word meaning commandment. The commandment Jesus gave the last night of His earthly life was, “To love one another as He as loved us.”
If we want a glimpse of what such love in action looks like, we only need to see God himself, washing the feet of His broken and imperfect apostles.
It is interesting to me that many churches are named after the apostles, named after those who in the midst of their failures and weaknesses came to Jesus. Churches are named after those who understood that a relationship with Jesus starts not with our fullness, but at the heart of our emptiness.
Given that our churches are named after broken people who found a new life in Jesus, it is pretty clear to me who it is that Jesus seeks. He seeks busted apart and broken people that look a lot like you and me.
While the events of Maundy Thursday, which led to Good Friday point to the forgiveness we receive through Christ’s body and blood, to God using us precisely because we are broken and imperfect, and to the centrality of love and service, they also point to something else.
God wants His church to be the place where there are many ways to get in and where everyone is invited. There is room for all and no one should ever be left out.
When Jesus’ broken and bloodied body hung on the cross, He was doing it so that everyone might come within the reach of His saving embrace. And it is this kind of love, my friends, that we are called to show as we live our days imperfectly following Jesus and serving others.
Over the past seven and a half years, I have witnessed this amazing community of faith grow in many ways. We have welcomed new members of the community, our staff has grown, our attendance has increased, we have experimented with and implemented additional worship services, our children’s programs have skyrocketed, we are reaching more and varied organizations, partnerships are being formed in the community, and the impact has been far and wide…and GREAT!
While all of these things are exciting and I am very proud to have been a part of it all, I feel the time has come for me to seek out new growth opportunities and challenges in a different career path. It has been a difficult decision, as I have loved working for the Chapel and care greatly for the Chapel community. While change can be scary and difficult, I truly believe God encourages us to continue learning and challenging ourselves. Therefore, it is time for me to start a new chapter in my life. I have accepted a position at Design Workshop in Aspen in their HR Department. I look forward to a new type of organization and culture – they have a much larger staff (over 100 people) and multiple offices nationally and internationally, which is a vastly different environment.
Thank you to each of you. I am grateful for the many friendships I have made, the opportunities to help a variety of people in difficult times, the chance to help grow this Chapel and the numerous lessons I have learned.
My last day as Administrative Director will be Thursday, April 6th. I am visiting my family for the Easter season, but look forward to seeing you in church as a fellow community member after my return.
Blessings and much gratitude to each of you,
I’ve found the word stymied to be quite useful in life. The noun stymied means, from one source, “a situation or problem presenting such difficulties as to discourage or defeat any attempt to deal with or resolve it.”
As an aside, what I never knew was where the word came from until recently. This is what I found on-line. “It was in the 19th century that the word stymie entered English as a noun referring to a golfing situation in which one player’s ball lies between another ball and the hole on the putting green, thereby blocking the line of play. Later, stymie came to be used as a verb meaning to bring into the position of, or impede by, a stymie.”
Whether being impeded or encountering difficulties in resolving a situation, certainly most if not all of us have been stymied at one point or another. Times in which we simply don’t know what to do or how to fix something.
Over the years, I’ve been stymied by math problems, chemistry equations, how to get out of a plateau in my tennis skill level, travel cancellations in a foreign country due to labor strikes, and even how to ski down a rocky chute I somehow ended up at the top of. While none of what I’ve just mentioned are big deals, there have been other passages when I’ve been stymied in far more significant ways.
Sometimes I just don’t know what to pray for. When my dear cousin Madeline at age 34 was dying of cervical cancer, as I sat at her bedside and knew she was in pain and not going to survive, I remember the painful feeling of being uncertain what to pray for. It was the same when my dad nearly 18 years ago was in the same shape. Sometimes I’ve felt this way with people I’ve had the privilege of walking along side of as a pastor who were enduring beyond what can be described as catastrophic.
And 20 years ago, while in seminary and I did not know where I’d end up after ordination and was questioning my sense of call to begin with, somehow praying “Thy will be done” did not offer me much comfort.
The other day I was visiting a friend up on Missouri Heights in the mid-valley. It was extremely windy. As we sat and talked, I realized that one reason I’ve always loved the wind is that it reminds me of the Holy Spirit.
I immediately thought of some of the times I’ve been stymied about very significant things in life, like now not knowing what to pray for, for my 94-year-old mom who doesn’t remember I called 3 minutes after I hang up. Or what to pray for, for a teen close to my heart that has been to hell and back.
I’ve learned over the years that when we are stymied by something, it is vital to remember the Holy Spirit. Recalling what Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, for me, is where the rubber meets the road with our walk with Jesus when we have either no idea what to do or what to pray for.
Paul wrote in Chapter 8 of Romans, “God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” Another version of the passage says, “The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”
In other words when we don’t know what to pray for or even how to pray, it is precisely then that the Holy Spirit prays for us, on our behalf. When we are stymied, God does the praying for us.
This message from scripture is not only immensely comforting in trying times, but foundational to who Jesus is and what he is about, even in those moments in which he feels absent or far away or simply non-responsive to what we’ve been asking for.
Because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, my friends, indeed we can endure all things through Christ who gives us the strength we need.
Although I typically use a keyboard on my computer or voice writing on my i-phone, I use pens daily. While a pen is much slower than a keyboard, there is something about a pen I prefer. Things slow down and there is more time to think before moving a word from the mind to paper. Perhaps this is why I miss slower attached ski lifts where there was more time for conversation and taking in the scenery with friends. Clearly faster is not always better.
This week we continue in the 40-day season of Lent. The season in which we ponder and pray about the cross and resurrection of Jesus. It certainly is an opportunity to come clean with ourselves and others with regard to things we have done we wish we had not and things we did not do we wish we had. And of course, these 40 days are an invitation to intentionally spend more time with our loving, gracious, and forgiving Creator.
A day or so ago I was putting some ideas down on paper for some upcoming sermons and for a variety of programs we are doing at the Chapel. I was sitting in a comfortable chair with a footstool. Before I fell asleep for a 15-minute nap, I slouched lower and lower in the chair, meaning the paper pad I was writing upon moved from a downward position to an upward position against my knees.
Just before dozing off, I noticed the ink was becoming lighter and lighter as I wrote, not because it was running out of ink, but because the tip of the pen slowly became pointed upward as the paper pad moved in the same direction. Wanting to get some more thoughts down quickly, I stopped writing, adjusted my position, and began to write a bit more.
Stop and adjust. As I think about it, stop and adjust are two great concepts and ideas to act upon during this season of Lent. Perhaps there are ways of being, ongoing conversations, manners of thinking, or methods of approaching situations and people in which we need to simply stop, adjust, and start over again.
Sometimes we have to simply stop to get perspective, to create an opportunity for things to start flowing again in the right direction, and to give ourselves a moment to collect ourselves and make needed adjustments. It can be hard to adjust without stopping sometimes and stopping without making any adjustments can keep us stuck in non-beneficial ways.
Over the days ahead, I invite you to join me in thinking about those situations or relationships in life in which, like a pen pointed toward the sky, things are just not flowing like they should. Think about hitting the pause button and while stopped, think about needed adjustments on your part.
And the idea of stop and adjust is what repentance is all about. It is about stopping and turning ourselves back toward God instead of away from God. The Good News is that God never needs to stop and adjust when it comes to you and to me. God is always in the right position in that regard, which is one of welcome and love.
Lent, which began this last Ash Wednesday, is a 40-day period from Ash Wednesday through the Saturday before Easter. Lent excludes Sundays because the focus of every Sunday is the resurrection of Jesus and the hope it brings.
The word Lent comes from a word meaning the lengthening of days. 40 is an important number because of its huge biblical significance. 40 was the number of years the people wandered around the desert after leaving Egypt.
40 days was the length of the rain during the great flood. 40 was the number of days Jonah told the people of Nineveh they had left before God would destroy everything. And of course, 40 is the number of days Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by the devil.
The season of Lent offers each of us the opportunity to pay attention to some of the central themes of Lent, which include the following.
Mortality. We are all temporal flesh and blood. Our mortality invites us not only to approach life and others with humility, but with an utter dependence upon God who gave us life to begin with. Such dependence reminds us we are never alone and we are filled with God’s presence regardless of our awareness or strength of our faith.
Justice. Justice is a fundamental biblical theme and the need for justice continues from generation to generation. Our world is broken. Relationships are broken. Suffering abounds and as followers of Jesus we are to seek restoration of what is right and reconciliation wherever we find ourselves.
Repentance. Lent is a season of repentance and repentance simply means to turn around or turn back to putting God at the center of our lives. Repentance is freeing precisely because we can let go of trying to control everything and turn our lives and challenges over to God.
Salvation. Indeed, we each need a Savior, a Savior who will save us from ourselves and our perishable nature. Christ is the doorway to life beyond this one.
Forgiveness. The season of Lent culminates with Jesus dying on the cross. One of the most liberating truths is that through Christ we are forgiven and therefore we can not only release our own guilt, but are free to forgive others and the healing it brings to all.
My prayer for all of us in the weeks ahead is that we will intentionally take time to sit with God and turn all that is within over to God. And my greatest hope is that God’s love will fill each of us so that we will approach each day with hope, joy, service, and the knowledge that indeed, when it is all said and done, all will be well.
Last week I wrote about how the Chapel staff meets weekly to discuss all aspects of worship, and the process that we undertake to create a sacred space for worship each week. Amidst the prayer, thoughtful discussion, and opening ourselves up to the voice of God speaking to us about preaching, music and themes, we get down and dirty with some good old-fashioned biblical exegesis. Which is just a fancy way of saying we try to figure out what the heck is really being communicated.
Remember the old TV show, “Diff’rent Strokes”? Gary Coleman’s adorable character made himself famous by saying, “Whatchou talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” When trying to understand scripture, sometimes it works best if we cock our heads just so, scrunch up our faces, and say in our best Gary Coleman voice, “Whatchou talkin’ ‘bout, Jesus?”
Historical Criticism is one method that informs the way we read the Bible, and it helps us to better understand what was happening given the cultural, political, and societal climate in a particular time and place. (Historians are going to have a heyday looking back at the 21st century, don’t you think?! But I digress….) Literary Criticism is another method. It takes into account the written and oral traditions which show up in unexpected places throughout the Bible. For example, in Matthew 22:41-46 Jesus asked the Pharisees a question about the Messiah (“Who’s son is he?”), and then he quotes from Psalm 110 to basically answer his own question. By quoting the ancient Hebrew Bible, Jesus helps modern day scholars (and Snowmass Chapel staff members!) tease out more meaning by taking us back into the world of the ancient texts to which he refers. That Jesus — he doesn’t miss a beat, does he? He knew the Psalms were an important part of the Jewish faith and he used them to help the Pharisees make sense of the long-awaited Messiah standing before their very eyes!
And here’s where literary criticism gets rather fun. What if we omitted this passage completely from the Gospel of Matthew? Would it make a difference? Of what significance is it? This is a technique that literary scholars employ to get more information. In the case of Matthew 22:41-46 a quick analysis demonstrates that the final verse of the passage (“from that day forward, no one dared to ask him any more questions”) relates us right back to the beginning of Chapter 21 when the Pharisees were scrutinizing Jesus’ authority (Matt. 21:23). They began to question him on many of his teachings, trying to entrap him (22:34). But Jesus was having none of it. This passage IS significant because it’s critical that you and I, some 2000 years later, know this: Jesus SHUT THEM DOWN. In his very Jesus way he simply outsmarted, outshined and outdid the highest, most respected religious leaders of the day. “You think the Messiah is David’s own son? Um. No. Let me just school you on this one, boys.” End of conversation.
This passage, then, is sandwiched right here for a reason, and literary criticism shows it is a necessary thing. Jesus has just finished telling everyone that the most important commandment is to love God and love people. In a few verses he is going to give the Pharisees a piece of his mind about hypocrisy and being good role models and how the kingdom of heaven is for EVERYBODY. But first he needs to settle a little matter of his Sonship once and for all. No more questions.
And this, my friends, is how a sermon theme begins to percolate.
I can’t believe I am thisclose to graduating from seminary! I actually had to fill out my official graduation request yesterday so it’s getting real, friends. Three years have flown by; but, honestly, if I could I would keep registering for courses because there is still so much to learn!
One of the things we do as a Chapel staff each week is bible study and planning Sunday worship. It provides lots of opportunities to dive into the Word and wrestle with a phrase or a particular theme, setting, or — this week’s question of the day, for instance — why would Matthew put that paragraph there; it seems out of place? There is such rich and authentic discussion around the table each week, and as you can probably guess, a diversity of voices and perspectives — and I think Jesus would just love it!
This kind of examination of scripture is what theologians call exegesis (or as my husband likes to say: “exe-Jesus”). Exegesis is a fancy word that seminarians like to throw around, but it’s really a foundational practice of trying to understand what someone is communicating. You do exegesis every day! When you read or listen to someone speak you are, whether consciously or not, asking, What is being said? Is the speaker or author preaching, teaching, exhorting, singing, lamenting? What literary form is being used? What is the literal or nonliteral meaning? Who is the intended audience? In other words, what the heck is really going on here?
Biblical exegesis simply looks to interpret our sacred texts through different lenses such as history, form and function, tradition, original sources, textual variants, etc. It allows us to sort of interrogate the text, asking a variety of questions.
I recently studied a particular passage in Matthew (Chapter 22, verses 41-46 if you’re curious!) and used the Historical Critical method to do some exegesis for a paper. By employing the historical critical method we get to see not only the history in the text but the history of the text. For instance, the passage I studied deals in part with the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees. Using historical information, we know the Pharisees were religious leaders, zealous in upholding religious laws of the Hebrew Bible and who were, perhaps, threatened by Jesus who claimed a new way of interpreting the law and who had amassed a large following. Historical criticism allows us to peek inside the first century and to understand the political, social, and economic climate of the times.
But it is the history of the text in question that is really bolstered by the historical critical method. Why did Matthew include this very short paragraph in his Gospel? By whom and for whom was it written? What is depicted in the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees that may not be overtly described? Where (and why) is the story situated within history? Again, by examining the lives of first century Christians, both gentiles and Jewish Christians, and by acknowledging the long-standing religious assumptions of the Jews and the Pharisees in particular, we can better understand the historical situation out of which this biblical text arose. This is just one example of the exegetical methods theologians (that includes YOU!) use in interpreting scripture. For more exegetical methods….stay tuned next week. 🙂 I warned you there is a lot to learn!
Exegesis is a good reminder to me to expect the unexpected when reading scripture. It does not so much allow us to master the text as much as it enables us to enter into the text. I may have read a passage a hundred times before, but if I open my Bible with a new set of “lenses” on, I am opening myself up to new insights and perspectives. After all, the scriptures themselves tell us they are God-breathed; the Holy Spirit is constantly moving and shaping and speaking to us through them.
The Super Bowl game this last Sunday was special on a number of different levels. While I am heartbroken that the sport can cause life-diminishing and life-ending brain trauma, I remain a fan for a variety of reasons. The sport teaches people, young and old, about teamwork, overcoming challenges, and the value of grit. Sunday’s game certainly highlighted these values and was entertaining to watch for all of us who have grown up loving the sport.
That said, however, there was a standout moment in the game and it happened during the half time show. The immensely successful Lady Gaga took the stage in a superbly choreographed show. But what struck me was when she sang her song, “Million Reasons.”
While I am not a mind reader, I believe it is not a stretch to say the lyrics get into a variety of issues including heartbreak, being let down, frustration, and having faith that is challenged. Lady Gaga, who grew up in the Catholic Church, inserts the following lyrics into her song.
I bow down to pray. I try to make the worse seem better. Lord show me the way…Can’t you give me what I’m needin’, needin’, every heartbreak makes it hard to keep the faith.
These words are those of a person whose faith has been challenged by life, something that happens to each and every one of us. What moved me greatly was to have her sing these lyrics on national television and to observe her willingness to make reference to prayer, faith, and our Lord.
While some may condemn her for her inclusive progressive social values, and a few for her dance moves, my hope and prayer is that she will move people who are otherwise unmoved to begin to think about prayer, faith and God in their own lives.
Jesus was deliberate about the people he chose to serve others and spread his teachings. If you look at their biographies, I believe that each one of them would have been happy to have been on stage with Lady Gaga. Not because they could necessarily dance or sing, but because they understood you have to meet people where they are to reach them. What a great lesson for us all.
I celebrate whenever God shows up in mainstream culture in a non-threatening, inviting way. While a life-long fan of football, I’m a new fan of Lady Gaga and her Gaga expressions of faith. May we all be so bold to lead others to our Lord who loves and forgives us all.