Sunday, December 26, 2010

Out of Egypt There Came a Great Light

Sermon December 26, 2010 on the text Matthew 2:13-23.  We tell the story of Christ's birth like a fairy tale, almost beginning with "once upon a time."  However, we know that Christ's birth was no fairy tale, and it didn't have "and they lived happily ever after" at the end.  We often forget that Jesus came into a world of sin and hardship, and we still live today in that world.  But if we follow God's leading, then God will help us navigate the difficulties life throws our way.  Where is God leading you?  Where is your Egypt?  How are you continuing to share the Light to the children of our world today?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Out of the Darkness of our Fear, Shines the Light of Peace

Sermon December 19, 2010, Fourth Week of Advent, on Luke 2:8-14.  Who are the shepherds you need to seek out?  How do you  have peace in the midst of fear?

(There was a technical glitch in the middle of the sermon when the batteries on my microphone died.  These things happen.  Also, the litany at the end has been included below as you could not hear the congregational response on the recording.)


Sonja: Holy God, heaven and earth are met this day in the newborn Child, Savior of the world.  We celebrate his birth; for in him you come to be close to us, that we might be close to you. 

all: Especially, we give thanks for the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and all he means to us…

Sonja: for prospects of peace in the world…

all: for confidence in your almighty love…

Sonja: for those who generously give…

all: for those who graciously receive…
for the Church’s nurturing us in the faith…

Sonja: God of all mercy, as you have come in Jesus Christ to be our guest, inspire our hearts to a hospitality that welcomes all your children in his name.  Especially we pray for those who have not heard your good news…


Sonja: for those who know no laughter, only tears…


Sonja: for those enslaved by tyranny…


Sonja: for the church as a refuge for the needy…


Family Advent Wreath - Dec 19, Week 4 - Peace

For more information on Advent, see my previous post on the Family Advent Wreath.  These meditations are for the weekly lighting of the Advent Wreath candles, so allow for more time for discussion.  December 2, 2012, First week of Advent; December 9, Second Week of Advent; December 16, Third Week of Advent

 Light the candle you lit the first week week and say, "we light this candle to remind us that our hope is in Jesus."

Light the candle you lit the second week and say, "we light this candle to remind us that God loves us and God wants us to love others."

Light the candle you lit last week and say, "we light this candle to remind us that God wants us to have joy."

This week we will be talking about peace.  Children may not understand peace, but they understand being fearful.  Peace from God is not about not being afraid, but even in situations we might be afraid, we have peace that we cannot explain.  You may want to talk about fears specific for your children.

For Discussion with your children:

What are some things that make you afraid?  (They may be afraid of the dark, or afraid of dogs, and this may be a good time to talk about fears they may have.)  

There are some things that make us afraid for good reason.  Our fear keeps us from doing things that are bad for us.  (If you are trying to teach your children about stranger danger, this may be a good time to bring this up.)  But sometimes we are afraid and there is nothing we can do about it to protect ourselves, or there is nothing to protect ourselves from.  Even when we are afraid, God is there with us, and we can know that God is there with us, because God gives us peace through God's spirit.

Scripture Reading:  John 14:26-27
"...the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."  

Philippians 4:6-7
"Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."  

Jesus said he came to give peace, but not as the world gives.  Our peace comes from God's Holy Spirit, not from things we think make us feel secure.  Even when we are afraid, we can have peace that comes from God, even if we don't understand how it works.  

Light the last purple candle.  (For information on the order, please see the first week's post.) Please make sure there is adult supervision for any child using matches or a lighter to light the candle.  Also, please supervise your child as long as the candle is lit.

Prayer:  Thank you God for giving us peace, even when we cannot understand it.  Help us to shine God's light of peace in the world around us, so we may worship the child in the stable who is the Prince of Peace.  Amen.  

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Craziness of Christmas

Christmas is my favorite time of year.  I love to decorate my house to the max, and to immerse myself in Christmas music, Christmas movies, and Christmas books.  Lights on the trees (yes, I have more than one in my house), presents (real and fake) under the tree, and wreaths on the doors all herald a special time.  I don’t just mean the “birth of Jesus” stuff, but all of it that we have created in our unfortunate, consumer-driven, commercial Christmas as well.  I do know I should fight the consumerism of Christmas and Santa taking over the show, I really do.  I truly do believe it is as simple about the birth of the Savior of the World to lowly circumstances; I just love the rest of it too!  But it does get a little crazy sometimes.

And then, there is the downside.  Many people are not able to celebrate Christmas with a bunch of presents and decorations.  They understand a child born to poverty; we should remember them as we remember the birth of the Christ.  When I was a single mom with very little disposable income one of the ways my kids and I would celebrate the season was to drive through neighborhoods with all the light displays.  A Jewish family lived in one of the neighborhoods and they would decorate their house with blue and white lights in the shape of the Star of David for Hanukah.  They celebrated in their own way the magical joy of the season.  Those who could afford to provide those decorations did so for the joy of all who could not afford this luxury.  Because of their generosity, we could all share in the beauty of the season.  

I do think this time of year inspires people to look at their circumstances, rich or poor, and truly feel blessed.  This is different than Thanksgiving when we count our blessings; this is actually feeling blessed and happy.  People reach out to those without as much with kindness and generosity unmatched at any other time of year.  One year a homeless young man managed to find himself in the community I served.  He was only 19, and had really no place to go.  The entire community pitched in and found him odd jobs to earn some cash.  The Ministerial Alliance provided him with a place to stay, the Masonic Lodge provided him with some clothes, and my church provided him with a coat, hat and gloves.  If he had desired to stay in the community, we could have found him a job and a place to live.  But better than that, he talked to his mother on the phone, and the community chipped in and got him a bus ticket to where she lived, a pay-as-you-go phone, and pocket money for the trip.  Even those who didn’t have very much, still shared what they had.  Does this always happen when we have someone roll through town?  No, but there was something about the circumstances and it being the week before Christmas that inspired us all to lay aside our differences and work together to show a young man that he shouldn’t give up on the world just yet, there really are people who still care.

I celebrate these types of stories and relive them over and over again.  This is the time of year we can celebrate, can choose happiness, intentionally.  Intentional happiness is making a choice to not focus on what we don’t have or can’t afford, and focusing on the Spirit of the Season, which I believe is there because of one small child, born in poverty, who came to bring joy and life abundant, which isn’t about things, but relationships.  I choose to celebrate not reservedly, but with wild faith and intentional happiness.  

Published in The Corridor Magazine, December 2010 issue

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Out of the Darkness of Sorrow, Shines the Light of Joy

Sermon December 12, 2010, Third Week of Advent, on Luke 1:46-55.  How do we find true joy in the midst of sorrow? 

Family Advent Wreath - Dec 12, Week 3 - Joy

For more information on Advent, see my previous post on the Family Advent Wreath.  These meditations are for the weekly lighting of the Advent Wreath candles, so allow for more time for discussion.  December 2, 2012, First week of Advent; December 9, Second Week of Advent

 Light the candle you lit the first week week and say, "we light this candle to remind us that our hope is in Jesus."

Light the candle you lit last week and say, "we light this candle to remind us that God loves us and God wants us to love others."

This week we will be talking about joy.  Joy is great happiness.  Children generally have no problem with happiness, but they may have misunderstandings about what brings us joy or happiness.  True joy doesn't come from material possessions or status or money or power, although many adults confuse this also.  True joy comes from within, when we find peace and contentment, when we focus on what really matters and not on the things that are temporary. 

For Discussion with your children:

What makes you really happy?  (As they answer they may list "things." When they do this try to help them see past their things.  You may ask them if they could be happy without that specific item.  If they say, "no."  Ask them about something else you know makes them happy, such as a game they like to play or people they like to play with.)

What about if we don't have the things that we think make us happy?  What could make us happy then?  (This will get them thinking a bit outside the box.)

Sometimes our things make us happy for a moment, but Jesus brings us happiness even when we don't have those things.  How do you think that works?

Scripture Reading:  Psalm 32:11
“Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart."

This is pretty straightforward.  You might discuss how we can be glad in the Lord.

One of the ways we experience joy is in excitement and enthusiasm.  This would be a good opportunity to allow the children to shout for joy!  Shout with them!  Woohoo!  Yippee!  Yahoo!  Hallelujah!  However you choose to express that joy!  When you have an opportunity to get them all wound up and excited, then ask them if they can feel their blood pumping.  Is their heart racing?  Are the 'feeling excited on the inside?'  This is one of the ways we feel joy is when we express joy.  Have them sing a favorite worship or praise song with you as part of the meditation.  Maybe even sing "Joy to the World" as loudly and excitedly as you can.

God wants us to feel joy!  True joy!  We only experience true joy with God.  God knew that we would have trouble understanding this, so God sent Jesus to teach us more about having a relationship with God.  Jesus calls this having abundant life, but we can call this happiness from the inside out.

Light the pink candle (or purple if you do not have a separate pink candle).  (For information on the order, please see last week's post.) Please make sure there is adult supervision for any child using matches or a lighter to light the candle.  Also, please supervise your child as long as the candle is lit.

Prayer:  Thank you God for giving us joy and happiness.  We thank you for the gift of Jesus who came so we could experience joy in you.  Alleluia!  Amen.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Out of the Darkness of Apathy, Shines the Light of Love

Sermon December 5, 2010, Second Week of Advent, on the Scripture text Isaiah 11:1-10. (Also referenced John 3:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a, 13.) How do we show Christ's love in a hurting and hurtful world?  How do we see evidence of God's steadfast love?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Family Advent Wreath - Dec 9, Week 2 - Love

Sorry, apparently I have forgotten to post this.  My apologies for running late.

For more information on Advent, see my previous post on the Family Advent Wreath.  These meditations are for the weekly lighting of the Advent Wreath candles, so allow for more time for discussion.  December 2, 2012, First week of Advent

 Light the candle you lit last week and say, "we light this candle to remind us that our hope is in Jesus."

This week we will be talking about love.  The children may have many different understanding of love.  You may ask them what they love.  We love chocolate and puppies, but it isn't the same as the love we have for our friends.  And we love family differently than we love our friends.  You might discuss with your children the different forms of love: romantic love, family love, brotherly/sisterly love, friendly love, and love of things. 

For Discussion with your children:

What is "love?"

Who or what do you love?

Do you love _______________ (name a toy, food, activity, or any other non-person)?

Do you love _______________ (same as above) the same way you love mommy and daddy?

What is the difference?

Do you know that God loves you?  (Most likely they will answer "yes," after all, they will assume, unless they have guilt issues,* that they are loved by pretty much everyone.)

Do you know how much God loves you?

Scripture Reading:  John 3:16-17
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

Information:  Last week we learned that the people were hoping for God to send a Messiah, someone to save them.  Here in John the scripture tells us that God did send someone, God's own Son, because God loves us so much.  And it wasn't like God was sending someone to scold them or tell them how bad they were and they needed to do better, but to simply tell them how much God loves and how they can have a better relationship with God.

Many times we feel that we God is trying to trick us.  Kids can get this idea when they hear language like, "God is testing me."  Tests are tricky and even if you study, sometimes you don't always do very well.  Especially if they feel they don't know the right answers, they can become fearful of God or dread "the test."  But in John, we are told that we did not receive the gift of the Son to be 'condemned.'   Obviously, people weren't passing the test, they needed a tutor!

We can share with children how much God loves them by setting it in such a way that they will understand.  "You know how much mommy and daddy love you?" (Yes)  "Well, when you do something wrong to do we still love you?" (Yes - or you can assure them that is the case.)  "Well, God loves you even more than we do and that's a lot.  So much that only God could ever love you more than we do."

"Now, you love mommy and daddy, right?" (Yes.)  And because you love mommy and daddy, you want to do what they ask right?"  (Yes)  "This is called being obedient.  We love God so much, that we want to do what God wants from us.  It makes us happy to please God."

This is the relationship Jesus came to bring.  A loving relationship in which we love and do what God wants, and know that God loves us and blesses us.

God loves us more than anyone.  More than our sisters or brothers.  More than our grandma or grandpa.  More than mommy and daddy.  And that's a lot.  God loves us so much that God sent someone who helped us to have a good relationship with God.  This person was Jesus, who was born as a little baby, and couldn't even feed himself, but relied on his mommy Mary and daddy Joseph.

Light the second purple or blue candle.  (For information on the order, please see last week's post.) Please make sure there is adult supervision for any child using matches or a lighter to light the candle.  Also, please supervise your child as long as the candle is lit.

Prayer:  Thank you God for loving us so much.  Thank you for the people you sent to teach us to love, like our moms an dads.  We love you very much.  Amen.

 *If your child struggles with guilt, or whether or not they are worthy to be loved, I would recommend a book, You Wouldn't Love Me if You Knew by Jeannie St. John Taylor.  In this book a little boy does something "bad" and feels guilty.  In the end, his mother tells him that he is forgiven and that God forgives him also.  You never know what the "bad" thing is, so all children can relate to his feelings.  You may want to ask your children, what do you suppose the little boy did?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Out of the Darkness of Despair, Shines the Light of Hope

First Week of Advent - Sermon November 28, 2010, on the text Isaiah 2:1-5.  What is hope?  What do you hope for?  In the midst of despair that would threaten to black out all light, hope is what keeps us going.  What is the source of your hope?

Family Advent Wreath - Nov 28, Week 1 - Hope

For more information on Advent, see my previous post on the Family Advent Wreath.  These meditations are for the weekly lighting of the Advent Wreath candles, so allow for more time for discussion.

Nov. 28, 2010, First week of Advent

We begin the season with hope.  Hope is what the promised coming of the Messiah gave to the children of Israel.  They hoped for many things: peace, saving grace, relationship with God.  How can we explain these things to children, especially when the children are very literal and many times what we hope for is conceptual?

We begin with the idea of hope.  What are some things the children hope for?  While it may be easy to start with their Santa Wish List, it confuses the message and they think of hope as wishing for things that are material.  Hoping is not the same as wishing.  Hope is belief that what you desire will actually happen.  You might ask your child(ren) what they would pray for.  

If they need some guidance you might be ready with some suggestions such as "God bless mommy and daddy."  Help them understand that when they say "God bless mommy and daddy," what they are really asking for is for mommy and daddy to feel well (not be sick), for mommy and daddy to be happy, and for the family to have the things they need, and maybe a little extra.  When we ask God to bless us in a general way, this is usually what we desire.  The children may have been taught to pray, "God bless so-and-so" but not what asking for God's blessings really mean.

What we pray for is what we hope and desire.  We may already have it, such as health and happiness, but we may hope it continues.  On the other hand, if a child has been around a loved one who is sick or suffering from depression, then they will understand what it means to hope for something we don't have.  If they have ever felt sick, they know what it is like to hope to feel better.

With experience we learn that bad times do not last forever, things will eventually get better, just like night will eventually become the day.  Children do not have enough life experience to understand this very well.  Sometimes when things aren't going so well, they feel like it is forever.  To them that is a real feeling, even if we find their theatrics amusing.  This can be magnified in teens who are already self-conscious.  If your child has had any of these types of circumstances recently, that would be a good place to start with hopes.  We have hope that our circumstances will improve, and believe that it will, we just may not know when or how. Hope is an act of faith.  It is the belief, in spite of circumstances, that things can and will get better.  This is faith, and is important to teach our children. 

As far as the meditations for Advent will go, we will have a time for you to discuss as a family the topic of the week, such as hope, and this will set the stage for the meditation.  It will be good to ask questions to get your children to participate in the discussion.

Then there will be a Scripture reading.  The Scriptures printed for this post are from the NRSV translation.  Maybe one of the children could read the scripture verse, the meditation, or the prayer.

Ask your child(ren) what does "hope" mean?

What does it mean to "hope for" something?

What are some things you hope for?

Scripture reading:  Isaiah 60:2-3
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 
For darkness shall cover the earth,
   and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
   and his glory will appear over you. 

The scripture tells us of people hoping for something.  What do you think they were hoping for?

(Darkness is used here metaphorically.  You might explain that to your children in a way they can understand. Talk about what it is like before the sun comes up.  It is the coldest time of the night.  We look for the sun to come up, and it is beautiful and brings warmth and light.  This scripture is talking about God's light being the light that comes when our world is dark, like the sunrise coming up in the morning. The verse is talking about the prophecy of a Messiah or chosen one of God who would shed light and save the world from darkness.)

They were hoping for God to send someone to help them.  God did send someone to help them.  Who did God send?  (The answer is, of course, Jesus.  You may have to give the children a few hints if they don't get the answer right away.)

When do we hope that God will help us?

Sometimes if we are afraid of the dark, we like to have a light left on, just a small one, to make us more comfortable.  To these people God's promise was like that night light, to bring comfort and get them through.
God gives us that same comfort.

Like when we wake up in the morning and can count on the sun rising to bring light and warmth to our world, we can also count on God to bring God's light and peace to our spirits in our time of need.  God sent his light to the world in the form of a person so everyone could understand.  Jesus brings that light to our lives and helps us to live in right relationship with God.

(Light the first purple or blue candle.  Any of the purple or blue candles will do, but we light them in an order of purple, purple, pink, purple, white; so it is best to start with the candle opposite of the pink in the circle.  If you are using a straight line, then you would set them up: purple, purple, white, pink, purple, and light from the ends; i.e., right outside purple, left outside purple, pink candle, purple inside, white.  Please make sure there is adult supervision for any child using matches or a lighter to light the candle.  Also, please supervise your child as long as the candle is lit.)

God, just as we see this light from a candle shining in our home, help us to see your light in our lives and in our world.  Jesus thanks for bringing that light to shine in our darkness, and for showing us that God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us.  Amen.

(You may wish to leave the candle burning for a bit.  If so, please ensure that children are not able to burn themselves or accidentally begin a fire.  It is permissible to talk for a bit longer, maybe about what they hope for, and then blow it out when you are finished with the time of devotion.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Family Advent Wreath

Advent means, "the coming of" or "the arrival of" something important.  The season of Advent in the Christian tradition means the coming of or arrival of the Messiah, who we accept to have been in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Advent is a season of preparation for Christians world wide. 

With such a secular emphasis being placed on the time preceding Christmas Day with shopping and sales and parties, children confuse the real meaning of Christmas (the birth of the Christ child) with the tradition of culture (Santa Claus).  While the Santa Claus tradition started in Christian tradition with a generous Bishop, Santa unfortunately has become far removed from the true meaning of Christmas.  If you would like a story to read to your child which incorporates Santa into the Christian tradition, I recommend "A Special Place for Santa."

Considering all the hoopla that goes with the build up to Christmas with " x number of shopping days until Christmas" and the hype culture places on receiving rather than giving, it is difficult for children to understand the significance and importance of the preparing for the coming Messiah.  It is especially difficult because many times parents do not know how to talk with their children about Advent.

The story of the baby born in a manager is what we focus on, but we forget the why.  We forget that there were generations anxiously awaiting the coming of this child.  We neglect to tell the story before the birth that makes the coming of the Messiah so special, and the real meaning of Christmas loses its significance.  To reclaim the anticipation that the season of Advent brings, which enables us to truly celebrate the birth of the Christ, we must build this anticipation and longing.  We must go back and try to imagine a time without Christ.

To help parents teach their children the significance of Advent, I will be posting Family Advent Wreath meditations for parents and children to do together as you light a candle each Sunday of Advent.  You will need Advent candles.  These can be a simple as votive candles placed in a circle, or there are many styles available for purchase.  For those families who are in Cushing, we will have some available for you to purchase at the church.  I hope this is helpful for those of you with children and teens.

There are five candles total:  3 purple (or blue), 1 pink (rose), and1 white.  Any type of candle holders placed in a circle on inline works just fine.  There are some available on line, many of these do not have the white candle (Christ candle) which is always placed in the center, so you would need to supply that as well.  Here are a few links for Advent Wreaths online:

A simple one from Amazon (you would need to purchase the center Christ candle in white)
A fabric one with attachable candles (for parents of smaller children if you are worried about fire)
One with the nativity figures (candles not included)
There are many others available just search for "advent wreath and candles."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Good Food

Sermon November 21, 2010 on John 6:25-35.  Jesus makes the "I am" statement saying he is the bread of life come down from heaven.  The crowd kept wanting bread that perishes, or a sign (although Jesus had performed many).  What do we ask from Jesus that we are asking for the wrong thing?

The children of Israel in the wilderness found that if they hoarded the manna, it would spoil.  When we hoard Jesus, try to keep Jesus just to ourselves, without sharing with others, we find that we are spiritually empty, even though we know where to find the bread of life.  How do we hoard Jesus?

This thanksgiving, as we give thanks, let us also ask how we are, as the body of Christ in the world, to be bread of life for others.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Giving Thanks

The table is set with the finest, and the feast is laid; there is turkey, and sometimes ham.  Generally, you can find a selection of potatoes mashed, scalloped and au gratin.  Green bean casserole is always a favorite, and we must have buttery rolls, rich gravy, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.  Often there are sweet potatoes with gooey marshmallows browned and melting on top, and a variety of pies, pecan, pumpkin, and apple to name just a few.  We gather with family and/or friends, and sometimes even our pets.  There are parades and sporting events on the television to entertain us, and overall it is a time and a space to eat our fill and then take a late afternoon nap drifting away as some of the younger family members play games or just chat and catch up on life.  Thanksgiving is a time we stop and say thank you for the blessings in our lives.  And this is just one of many scenarios that are played out in America on the fourth Thursday of November.

However, for many people, this is just another day.  For many there isn’t enough money or food to fully set a feast.  Maybe our family doesn’t get along, or we find ourselves alone.  Maybe there is a crisis going on and we find we are away from family, friends.  One Thanksgiving Day when I was a child I remember watching two boxes of frozen turkey dinners, the kind in a little compartmentalized tray, slowly making their way down the conveyor belt at the grocery store checkout.  They were just right about eye level with me, and I watched as they slowly made their way to the clerk who punched the prices into the cash register, took my father’s money and placed the boxes in a paper sack.  I don’t remember much being said.  Did the woman think it strange that an older man and a young girl were buying frozen turkey dinners on Thanksgiving Day rather than having a turkey dinner with all the trimmings with family?

My mother was in the hospital, and while daddy took care of me well, he was by no means the primary caretaker of little girls.  Mom had many health issues when I was little, and from the somber tone, although I am sure I was not fully informed on everything going on, it seemed pretty serious.  I remember it was a cold, gray, drizzly day and dad was trying to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving.  The problem was it just didn’t seem like a festive day.  There were no traditions kept or relatives to see.  There were no dishes to do or ignore.  We had frozen turkey dinners and went to visit mom in the hospital.

Since then, I have given some thought as to the purpose of Thanksgiving.  Originally, it was a time to thank God for the harvest and for the settlers’ good friends, the Native Americans, who kept them alive in a strange new land.  It was a religious moment when we could give thanks as the scriptures instruct “in all circumstances.”  That day as a child, I remember my father bowing his head and giving thanks to God for all God’s mercies.  That day I began a journey that took years to travel of understanding how to give God thanks in all circumstances.

Any more Thanksgiving is more of a secular holiday than religious.  A day off work, a day to feast, watch football and parades, a day to visit relatives, some you may never see (or really want to) at any other time.  But in my heart it will always be a memory of my father bowing his head over a frozen turkey dinner thanking God for God’s mercies.  This Thanksgiving I would encourage you to give thanks in all circumstance and to lift a prayer of petition for those who may not be celebrating as you might – those who are hungry or thirsty – those who are sick or in prison – those who live impoverished lives – those who are isolated or alone – those who need love or reconciliation.  Pray for those who God loves and many times we forget, and give thanks.

Published in The Corridor Magazine, November 2010 issue

Raising Children

Sermon, November 14, 2010, Children's Sabbath.  The text used was Acts 2:17-18, Proverbs 22:6, and Matthew 18:1-5.  Children are a gift of God, but Jesus also encouraged us to become like a child to be able to see the kingdom of heaven.  Do we have the eyes of a child?  Can we see what they see?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Do This in Remembrance of Me

Sermon Sunday, November 7, 2010 on 1 Corinthians 11:17-29.  Paul was admonishing the Church at Corinth for their divisiveness.  He was also instructing them on how to worthily take the Lord's Supper, the Sacrament of Jesus.  How do we let our attitude about others diminish our joy at receiving the sacrament?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cheering Section

Today, Sunday, October 31, 2010, was Youth Sunday, where the youth led the service.  We also observed All Saint's Day this Sunday, as well as recognized those who have been members of our congregation for 50 years or longer. Today's message "Cheering Section" was more testimony, than sermon, on the text Hebrews 12:1-2.

Following the message a list of those who have passed from this congregation to the congregation eternal were read and is included in the recording.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rejoicing in God's Abundance

Sunday, October 24, 2010, we continue on in our Commitment Campaign with the theme of Get on Board! In week three we are challenged to continually be "Rejoicing in God's Abundance."  Our text this week is Malachi 3:7-15 .  How would you feel if these words were said to a crowd you were in?  Encouraged by God's abundance?  Or upset at being accused?  Our response is sometimes telling of where we are, and how responsive we are to God's call to mission.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Living as Fully Committed Christians

Sunday, October 17, 2010, we continue on in our Commitment Campaign with the theme of Get on Board! In week two we are reminded of our covenant to be, "Living as Fully Committed Christians."  Our text this week is 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, 9:6-7.  How do we respond to God's love and grace in our lives?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Removing Barriers to our Commitment

First Sunday of our Commitment Campaign, where we pledge to become more fully committed Christians.  Our theme this year is Get on Board! We want to all be on board going the same direction.  The sermon for October 10, 2010 on Luke 18:18-27.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Breaking Bread...and Boundaries

Sermon on October 3, 2010, World Communion Sunday.  Rev. Jeremy Bassett, Director of the Oklahoma Volunteers in Mission was the guest preacher and the text was Luke 7:1-17.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Protection from the Perils of Life

Sermon September 26, 2010 on the Scripture text Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16.  The Scripture reading was responsive, so I have included it below.  The Choir sang "God is Our Refuge." 

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Praying for Peace

Sermon September 19, 2010, on 1 Timothy 2:1-7.  Peace begins with us.  Do we do what makes for peace?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Grace Overflows

Sermon on September 12, 2010, on Luke 15:1-10 and 1 Timothy 1:12-17.  The song following the sermon is Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What others are saying about MTD

As a follow up to my Faith and Teens post, I read this post on emergingumc by Taylor Burton-Edwards on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

emergingumc: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: Treating the Parasite on Discipleship to Jesus

So, check it out and tell me what you think. Is there a cure for MTD? Are you with me in seeking one?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Membership Has its...Responsibilities

Remember the old American Express commercial "membership has its privileges?"  Well, the United Methodist Church could say "with privilege comes responsibility."  In the book, Restoring Methodism, by James and Molly Scott, it is asserted that according to findings by the National Council of Churches in the book Why Conservative Churches are Growing the "primary reason conservative churches were growing was their clear and strict rules for belief and practice, which translated into membership requirements."  The book further stated that conservative did not necessarily mean conservative in the beliefs and practices they were so strict about, and often these conservative churches were liberal in their social gospel. 

Simply put, the churches required something from their members, and so in order to be received into the membership of the church one would be required to attend classes before taking the membership vows.  I personally take confirmation of the youth very seriously and they are required to attend classes before they can join the church, but I have been admittedly lax in this when it comes to adult membership.  A friend of mind posed this question to United Methodist Clergy on facebook, "Does your church require training in a membership class before a person may join?" I would love to, but would feel the need to apologize for those who are already members who do not live up to their membership vows. 

The book Restoring Methodism also suggests that if members are not supporting their church by their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness, our membership vows, then we should remove them from membership rolls of the church.  John Wesley was known to hold Societies accountable, but he was also known to allow himself to be held accountable.  What do you think it would be like if United Methodist Churches today removed those members who were not fulfilling the covenant vows made at their membership? 

Since I feel the biggest threat to Christianity today are 'token' Christians, those who are Christian in name only and their actions are far from the ideals and teachings of Christ, I think more accountability is necessary.  But how do we bring this about?  My question is how do we get from here (with low or no accountability) to there (where we hold our members accountable and require membership classes to become a member)?  If you are a member of The United Methodist Church, would you be willing to be held accountable to your membership vows?  Would you be willing to take a class for membership?  And would you be willing to take "refresher courses" as you or your pastor felt was needed? 

Let me hear your thoughts on this subject.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Like Putty in God's Hands

Sermon September 5, 2010, on the scripture reading Jeremiah 18:1-10.  Oh that we all might be like "Putty in God's Hands."  We had a potter work clay on a pottery wheel during the special music and reading of the scripture.  She was referenced in the sermon. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Faith and Teens

I remember there used to be public service commercials that asked, "It's 9 o'clock, do you know where your child is?"  I think in the age of technology knowing where your child is physically is less critical, and we are now faced with a new question.  Do you know where your child is spiritually?  A recent article from "Author:  More Teens Becoming 'Fake' Christians," highlights the research of Kenda Creasy Dean.  Dean says:
more American teenagers are embracing what she calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." Translation: It's a watered-down faith that portrays God as a "divine therapist" whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem. 
Dean, author of the book, "Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church," places the blame squarely on parents and pastors.  Teens who claim the Christian faith are indifferent and inarticulate about their faith.  When faced with the argument that teens are not very articulate anyway, she counters that they can talk about money, sex and relationships, but when they are asked about their faith they cannot articulate much more than God wants them to feel good and do good.

Parents play a bigger role than they think in forming their child's faith.  Often parents feel it is inappropriate to 'force' religion on their children, and in that I would concur, but I think most of the erring in this situation comes from parents who have not articulated their own faith very well.  Dean says,
parents are the most important influence on their children's faith, [and] places the ultimate blame for teens' religious apathy on adults.
So what are the indicators that a child's faith is deeper than surface level?   Dean says committed teens share four basic traits:
  • They have a personal story about God they can share, 
  • a deep connection to a faith community, 
  • a sense of purpose and 
  • a sense of hope about their future.
These teens are more often found in Morman and Evangelical churches, as these groups have done a better job of "instilling religious passion."  I would view it more as giving them the why.  As a United Methodist pastor, I am happy my denomination teaches people to think about faith rather than telling them what to think about faith; however, we have possibly forgotten that children and youth need the foundation in faith before we can build the walls.

Giving our children and youth a deep faith with a solid foundation is critical if we really want to do what is best for our children.  It simply isn't enough that we tell them that God loves them and we should love our neighbor.  Life is rough and there are tough choices they will face.  Where is their shallow, watered-down faith then?  Jesus is the one that meets you in the valleys and shadows and gives you hope that there is light and you don't walk through the terrifying places alone.  

As much as I would like for the church to be able to provide what parents will not or cannot, I am faced with the reality that the parents are the stronger influence.  Do you demonstrate a deep faith that can see your child through the tough times?  How can the church help you parent effectively to deepen your child's faith?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Meeting of the Dis-Orders!

The clergy of the Oklahoma Conference gathered together yesterday for a Meeting of the Orders.  We come together a couple of times a year for fellowship, worship, and learning.  Sometimes these meetings occur when I am tired or really busy and they seem like inconveniences, but I am always encouraged by the day.  Conversations with colleagues to inspire and encourage me.  Worship and sermons that help me remember that it is God who calls me and God who gives me strength to carry out my calling.  And of course, educational opportunities.

Yesterday we had Rev. “Dr” Karrie Oertli, Chaplain's Director at Integris Baptist Medical Center, speak to us on self care.  As part of her presentation, she passed out forms for us to check off the symptoms of stress.  It seems we clergy are a stressed bunch.  I personally wasn't interested in finishing the form after looking at the first section, "physical symptoms;" however after glancing at the rest of the form I am pleased to report I do not smoke or exercise too much.  At that point, I was certain it was more of a Meeting of the Dis-Orders (and at my table, the Dis-Orderly) rather than a Meeting of the Orders. 

It did get me thinking though.  Symptoms and signs of stress have become more of the norm than the unusual.  And this isn't limited to the clergy or even to high stress occupations.  In my ministry I am often counseling people who are stressed and in need of personal and time management, and I have a particular soap box about how we over schedule our kids.  I am amazed that I am always met with the attitude that it is impossible to live any other way, and they are incredulous that I would even suggest anything different. 

I do try to practice self care.  I have regular times of devotion and meditation.  I try to be protective of my sabbath time and time with family.  I know simple things like when I am tired, I need rest, not another project.  I keep reminding myself that life is a marathon and not a sprint.  I am hopeful that as I model healthy behavior and sabbath keeping, the people in my congregation will begin to look at their lives and start protecting their sabbath time and family time as well.  I hope they will teach their children. 

I am truly worried about the effects of too much busyness on the children and youth of today, and what their future will look like if we do not teach them now the value of God time and self care.  It seems the values we are teaching them is that they must perform and excel in order to be of worth and value, and sometimes it is okay for them just to be.  But that's just my opinion.

I think it is important for us to ask the questions, so I will.  How do you take care of yourself?  How do you protect your sabbath time, family time and practice self care?  I'd really be interested in hearing from you on this.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What's Your Excuse?

Sermon August 22, 2010 on the text Jeremiah 1:4-10.  We often have several excellent excuses on why we are not able to fulfill the calling God places on our lives.  You know what?  God can take care of all our excuses.  How will you fill in the blank?

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only__________________’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.  Jeremiah 1:7

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Thanks for Noticing

Thanks goes out to Katie Z. Dawson, Pastor of First UMC Marengo, IA, who wrote an article, "Blogging for Pastors," for Circuit Rider, a professional magazine for United Methodist clergy.  In the article she talks about pastors blogging, and she gives pointers or tips for those who would like to start blogging.  In the article she lists twelve United Methodist blogs for people to check out.  This blog was one of the twelve.  I am honored.  Thanks Katie, and blogging blessings go out to you as well. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tears and Crying (Lessons I am Learning in Death, Dying, Grief, and Living)

Okay, on occasion I can be a mushy, sentimental, old sap.  I was made for the Kleenex commercials that talk about all those lovely transitions of life.  I went through 2-3 tissues whenever those commercials came on.  I'm sure it was great for sales.  I like to think of myself most of the time as pragmatic and realistic about life.  I'm not really what you might call a 'crier;' however, sometimes things bring out the really mushy side of me.  For example, I will cry whenever someone else cries, even if whatever is causing their tears really doesn't affect me.  I can go to the funeral of someone I do not know, and will empathize with the family - the husband or wife who lost a spouse, the parent who lost a child, the child who lost a parent.  This is part of what I bring when I counsel those who are grieving and sit with them in their grief.  I personally cry more at sorrow than shed 'tears of joy.'  I really don't even understand that phrase much.  Let's face it, God made us to have this way to express emotion, and we are all created to have emotion.

However, sometimes this emotional release is downright annoying.  Especially when you have so many sources of your tears, that the wells overflow repeatedly and often without warning.  I still cry over my dad's passing, and will for some time to come.  Those tears mix with the tears of missing my baby girl as she goes off to college.  Those tears mix with pain of seeing Christians not acting like Christians.  Those tears mix with my tears for another mother who lost a child. There are so many sources, I feel as if the well which holds my tears overflows, and there is no place for them.

In the middle east they have what is called lacrymatories or tear jars.  These jars are to hold the tears one shed's as they grieve over a loved one.  You can find the complete story here.  When I went to Israel/Palestine last year, I purchased a few of these jars for a few special friends, of course keeping one for myself.  There is a Roman Catholic Church on the Mount of Olives called Dominus Flevit.  It is said from this location Jesus wept over Jerusalem.  There are tear jars on the corners of this church to signify the tears Jesus shed for Jerusalem. 

Tears are just as much a part of life as pain, dying, joy, and celebration.  We cannot hide from our tears, as much as we may try, they catch up to us.  I appreciate those in the media who do not make it 'weak' to cry.  After all, our Lord wept, and we will do the same.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Sermon August 15, 2010 on the text Hebrews 11:29 to 12:2.  The foundations we base the future on are foundations in faith not concrete.  Who is cheering you on?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

God of Compassion

Sermon August 1, 2010, Communion Sunday, on Hosea 11:1-11.  How great and faithful is God's love toward us, even when we are unlovable!  The book read at the beginning of the service is "Love You Forever" by Robert Munsch.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Be Careful What You Pray For

Sermon July 25, 2010 on Luke 11:1-11.  Do we pray as Jesus taught us? Given that God only wants to give us good things, what do you pray for?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hearers and Doers

I was on vacation last week, so that is why there was no post for a sermon.  Thanks to Dr. Frank Denney for filling the pulpit for me. 

Sermon July 18, 2010, "Hearers and Doers," on Luke 10:38-42.  We all have Mary and Martha in each of us.  Work is required to further God's Kingdom, but where are we if we do not sit at the feet of the Teacher to determine what work is required of us and to be filled for service?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sent to All

Sermon on Sunday, July 4, 2010, on Luke 10:1-11, 16.  We are sent to all God's people to be in mission and ministry to all, regardless of circumstance or nation.  Peace be to you!  God's Kingdom is near!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Mantle

Sorry I didn't get this up earlier, but right after church last Sunday I left for camp.  I'll do much better tomorrow!

Sermon June 27, 2010 on 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14.  What mantle do you bear?  Is it time to pass it or take it up? 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

God Speaks

Sermon Sunday, June 20, 2010 - Father's Day - on 1 Kings 19:1-15a.  Quite often the voice of God comes to us in unexpected ways.  Are we ready to hear God speak?  Or are we still waiting for the expected?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lessons I'm Learning on Death, Dying and Grief - Part Four - Even if no one is with you, you don't die alone.

I've been moving, so this series has taken a break, but I hope to be able to post at least once a week on this until I'm done - whatever that means.

During his last week, all of his children and grandchildren came to see him.  At one time or another we stood by his bed, held his hand and spoke with him.  I have to say that this last week was probably one of his more lucid in recent history.  He knew who we were, and with little prompting knew what was going on in our lives.  He was never alone, right up until he drew his last breath.  One of us and my mother were with him at all times.

We worry about our loved ones 'dying alone.'  It is natural for us to want them to be surrounded by those who loved them.  We want to accompany them as far as we can in the journey.  However, much like the security checkpoints at airports now days, those who do not have a ticket, can only go so far.  Ultimately, we can only accompany our loved ones so far.  But I have learned that there are those waiting for them past that point we cannot go.

My father had a large family.  He was the oldest of nine children.  Even though he was the oldest, five of his siblings predeceased him, and of course, his parents.  As we were gathered around his bed, we pretty quickly realized, we weren't the only ones in the room.  At the foot of the bed was someone, we believe to be LaFoy, my father's brother, and we are pretty sure his mother was present because he kept talking to her.  There was a child there we believe to be Patsy, my father's sister who died when she was four.  He would talk with them and with us, like we were all part of the same conversation, and after all, we are.  He would look past us intently, as if he were trying to hear something, and then his face would break into a smile and he would start laughing as if someone told the funniest joke!  I'm pretty positive that would have been my uncle.

There was someone else too. Dad would be having conversations with someone he called, "my Lord."  He would stop and listen and then shake his head or make a comment.  There was definitely a conversation going on between my father and his Lord.  At one time after an exchange, I asked my father, "are you talking to Jesus daddy?"  My father looked at me, and nodded with big eyes.  "Yes," he whispered.  "Is he telling you to come on?" I asked.  My father looked at me, incredulous that I could hear the conversation as well.  He said, "yes."  "Don't you think you should do it then?" I asked.  "Yes,' he said, "It is so bright." 

I am convinced my father could see the glory that is heaven.  I'm convinced he was having a conversation with Jesus about passing from this life to the next one.  I'm convinced that those who love my father were there as a welcoming committee of sorts to walk with him on the journey. 

We do not walk alone.  We never have.  Just like the disciples on the Emmaus road.  Blinded by their grief, they could not see that they walked with Jesus.  Even when we feel alone, if we look around someone is there walking with us, if we have eyes to see. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Let us Be One

Sermon June 13, 2010 on Ephesians 4:1-6.  This was my first Sunday at Cushing UMC. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Tribute to My Father

This is the tribute I gave at my father's funeral, June 3, 2010

My father had a long and well-lived life.  He was the oldest child of Jim Edd and Ada Norris.  He was born September 19, 1917, in Eastland, Texas.  When he was in young, his family traveled from Texas to California due to the economic conditions of the Great Depression.  He dropped out of school before the 7th grade to go to work and help support his family, including seven younger siblings.  He worked as a migrant worker and was a truck farmer, selling produce from town to town out of the back of a truck to earn money.  He used to walk all over the country, hitching rides here and there, traveling back and forth from California to Texas to visit relatives. 

On one of these journeys, he traveled through Coleman, Texas where he stopped at a five and dime store.  There he met my mother, and in February of 1949 at the age of 31, he married the girl of his dreams.  The following year they had my sister, and three years later my brother was born.  Daddy worked as a civil servant with the Department of the Air Force in Texas, but later, due to base closings, the family moved to Oklahoma, where he worked as a painter at Tinker AFB.  If his early life during the depression wasn’t hard enough, he and mom had a baby girl, me, at the age of 47 with a teenage daughter and a pre-adolescent son in the house.  God bless them.

He worked at Tinker AFB until his retirement in 1983.  I can remember this date clearly; because that was the year I graduated from high school.  I’m sure dad was looking forward to retirement for a long time.  My dad was always such a hard worker with a great work ethic, something he passed on to his children.  He was not a person that had to have fanfare to precede him through life, nor did he have high honors, awards, and accolades.  Daddy just saw the job that needed to be done, and did it.  This same attitude provided for a wife and family, and even in his last week, his concern was taking care of his family, despite his bedridden condition.

This same spirit spoke to his spiritual life as well.  He didn’t have fanfare or accolades, recognition or praise, but he surely and steadily grew in his faith.  He never preached sermons or lectured on “thou shalt this” or “thou shalt not that,” but he set an example of a life of devotion and prayer that instructed more than any lecture.   His example taught me a life of personal relationship with Jesus, and through this relationship, I was able to hear my own call to ordained ministry, and inheriting dad’s tenacity and spirit, enabled me to follow that call.

Daddy confided in me one time about something he was ashamed.  This conversation occurred after I had gone into ministry, and daddy had heard me preach.  We were talking about when he was a deacon in the Baptist church.  He told me he really admired that I could stand up in front of others and speak the way I did, and proceeded to tell me a story of an occasion on which he was supposed to give a devotion for Sunday school.  He had worked hard on this devotion, prayed over it, studied the Bible, and was all prepared and ready when the day came.  He stood up to the podium to speak, looked out at the crowd, and was gripped with such fear that all he could do was stammer a bit and sit down.  He was so ashamed he could not speak the words that had God had lain on his heart and he looked at it as a personal failing.  I could hear the anguish in his voice as he recounted this story, and I assured him that he did not fail to proclaim the gospel.  He told it with his life. 

Daddy may not have stood in front of a crowd and delivered a rousing speech, but his life spoke volumes.  I watched my daddy bow his head in prayer and read his Bible every day.  I have read words written in his scrawling script which told of his love and adoration for his Lord, every other word misspelled.  My daddy never stood up and gave an eloquent sermon, but he lived his life a well-expressed example of Christ. 

St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th century monastic father, encourages us to “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.”  Daddy didn’t need the words to preach the good news of Christ, he lived it; and it lives on in us – we are his eloquent sermon.

These words written by my father were printed in the folder:

Death is a door;
A Christian will never see the grave.
You go on to heaven immediately after death,
And someone else will carry your body to the grave.
There’s no use coming to my grave, talking to me, or
Putting out flowers, because I’m not there,
I’m in heaven with Jesus.
So don’t waste your time and prepare for yourself
to be ready to meet the Lord Jesus.

By Vernon Norris

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Father's Passing

I haven't posted more of the series, "Lessons I'm Learning in Death, Dying and Grief," because, well...I've been busy studying those lessons.  But for those of you who have followed this blog, my father passed from this world to the church eternal on Sunday, May 30, 2010 at approximately 2:45 pm.  I wasn't there.  I thought that was important for me, and was a bit stressed over the fact that I wasn't there, that I had to be elsewhere and was traveling to this other location when I received the phone call. 

His funeral is today at 2 p.m., and we are getting ready to travel down there to celebrate his life.  Ninety-two years of a life well-lived.  God has already received him, we are just celebrating dad's arrival.  Blessings to you and thanks for your prayers and well wishes.  I will post on the lessons I am learning later. 

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lessons I'm Learning on Death, Dying and Grief - Part Three - The spirit is willing, but the flesh is strong.

My daddy was always such a strong man.  He was 47 when I was born, so you would have thought he wouldn't have the energy required to keep up with a young and ornery child.  But he managed somehow.  He was the age of a grandpa, but his was a full time job, not just the weekend with the grandkids sort of thing.  That takes a great deal of energy, but he always seemed to manage to come up with it.  I did not, of course, realize until I had children at a reasonable age in my 20s that both of my parents having me later in life were probably tired a lot. 

When I was around six (so daddy would be 53), I was playing in the backyard with a Frisbee.  I had an older brother and sister who had moved out of the house by this time, so I was virtually an only child growing up.  I was playing with a Frisbee, but there was no one there to catch it for me, so on one particularly good throw, it went zinging over the fence into the neighbor's back yard.  I did what any child would do.  I went and told my father.  He dutifully went over to the neighbor's house to retrieve the wayward toy. 

There was a brick planter box I was standing on by the fence watching my father.  It was about three feet wide, and I was standing on the wall closest to the fence gripping the top railing of the chain link fence.  I was watching dad, but I was then, and I am now, rarely without motion going on of some sort.  I would make my body stiff and let go of the fence and fall back a bit and catch myself - just in the nick of time before I fell back completely.  Well, I'm sure you can imagine what happened - I missed once.  I fell back and my head hit just over the opposite wall of the planter box.  The brick wall cut the back of my neck, just below the base of my skull.  There was quite a bit of blood, and I screamed.  The next thing I know, I saw my father clear that fence and land right beside me.  He picked me up in his arms and carried me into the house, and later took me to the hospital for stitches. 

He could leap over chain link fences in a single bound.  He was my knight in shining armor (okay, plaint splattered overalls), and he would rescue me from wasps and bees and killer red ants.  If I were stung by a wasp, you would soon see dad marching purposefully toward their nest with a can of gasoline and a torch!  They better never hurt his little girl! 

My daddy was always strong, and had a strong heart.  He has traveled by foot over a good part of this country.  He has worked hard his entire life.  So, these recent years that he has been confined to a wheelchair has been difficult to watch.  His world was reduced to a very small apartment and a television set.  The last time he was in a nursing home for physical therapy after a fall we saw a bit of his strong spirit as he would routinely attempt to escape. 

As we have sat by his bedside these last few days, his heart is still pretty strong.  His body, as frail as it is, not without some strength.  He also has a strength of spirit that is undaunted by his circumstances.  This past week it is pretty obvious that he is living in two worlds.  He is having conversations with us, and remembers us with little prompting, but he is also including in our conversations other people only he can see.  His mother and brother who died sometime back are there.  There is also a child, who we assume is his sister Patsy who died when she was four. 

And of course, my father is speaking to someone he only refers to as "my Lord." I asked him if Jesus was there and he nodded his head yes.  I asked him if he (Jesus) was telling him something, again he nodded.  I asked him if he were telling him to come home.  He looked at me square in the eyes, surprised that I too could apparently see and hear what he could and said, "yes." 

It has been fascinating to watch the look of awe and wonder on his face as he gazes at the marvels of heaven only he can see.  There is an obvious desire to go to that wonderful and beautiful place, but even in his weakest moments where we think the end is close, if you lay your hand on his chest you will feel a strong and steady heartbeat.  The nurses are amazed that in spite of everything else indicating his transitioning through the stages of the end of life, his heart rate has maintained strength and steadiness.  So while his spirit is willing, his heart indeed is strong. 

We have prayed during some of the more laboring points for Jesus just to go ahead and take daddy on to this beautiful place where his loved ones are waiting.  As we were driving home my husband, daughter and I were comparing what God was telling us at this time.  My daughter was getting the word to wait, my husband was hearing, "it's not time."  I was hearing, "not in your time."  It simply wasn't time for him to go then.  His heart was strong. 

The time is approaching when Jesus will call to my father and my father will no longer be bound by the confines of an earthly body.  When that day comes, we will celebrate the completion of his journey and wait until it is time for our name to be called. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lessons I'm Learning on Death, Dying and Grief - Part Two - Birth and Death

 As my family and I gathered around my father's bedside, I was reminded how similar the journey of birth and the journey of death really are.  I believe that death, like birth, is a holy and sacred moment. 

At the moment of birth there is much rejoicing.  I remember 30 years ago when my sister was laboring with my niece, there was a period of long and agonizing labor.  There were pains and strivings, and even in spite of such unpleasantness, the moment my niece entered this world there was great rejoicing!  A celebration! We were shouting in the halls announcing that "it's a girl!"  What excitement was generated simply by our excitement, even among those who had nothing to do with the family.  I remember my own journeys of laboring with my children.  It was the same thing.  Pain, yes.  Rejoicing?  Oh yes! 

At the time of death, there also  is much rejoicing, like the moment of birth.  That may sound strange because of course death is also a time to mourn.  We grieve the loss of our loved one.  We miss their presence in our lives, so it is difficult to think of death as a time of rejoicing or celebration, but I believe it is.  In the case of my father those of us on this side of the journey are celebrating a life well-lived.  For those who are awaiting him on the other side of the journey, it is a celebration of seeing their loved one again.

It is work.  There is laboring, like birth.  It is a process.  It is like working so hard for one moment, such as training for a marathon.  You work so hard, first in training and then in the race.  You work so hard for one moment, the time you cross the finish line.  It is a brief second.  When that moment finally arrives, you can't help but feel elated.  Win or lose, you are thrilled when that moment is finished. 

It is like watching a hard fought contest, cheering your contender on to the bitter end, and when the final point is scored and your team is the victor, you have great joy and great relief all at the same time.  You literally shout for joy!  You celebrate.  While death is a sobering moment, one in which we contemplate life and the purpose of our existence, it is still at time of great celebration. 

There are other similarities of birth and death.  Death, like birth, is messy.  There is a mid-wife concept of death, we call it hospice.  I don't know if you have thought of death as the reversal of birth, but I'm sure there are many other similarities. 

There will be more lessons I am learning on death, dying and grief in the days to come.